Vets for Freedom shed light on war

As Shabbat ended on March 15, 150 teenagers, parents and senior citizens came to hear members of Vets for Freedom speak at YULA High School. As a 15-year-old freshman in high school, I wanted to attend to hear these soldiers’ stories because I care about our country. I also wanted to hear their side of the war, and after the soldiers spoke, I saw the war in a new light.

Vets for Freedom is a nonpartisan organization informing the American public about the importance of succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first vet who spoke was one of the leaders of the organization, Pete Hegseth, an infantry platoon leader who served in Guantanamo Bay. He spoke about how the Iraq War should be won and his recent visit to Baghdad. According to Hegseth, the neighborhoods are completely reformed compared to those of 2005, because Al Qaeda was expelled by the American troops who lived among the population.

Hegseth also got a standing ovation for what he said regarding Guantanamo Bay: “[The prisoners] would come here tomorrow and kill Americans or our allies, and it is important we would keep them out of that fight. We have to have a place to hold them.”

Next was Jeremiah Workman, a Marine squad leader in Fallujah, who talked about the two to three weeks of “house-to-house” combat to kill insurgents. Workman compared the battles there with the city’s recent situation. He commented how the gunfire has subsided and how soldiers are invited to some Iraqi weddings.

Workman passed on the microphone to Steve Russell, a colonel who was involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein. Russell took the event to more of a meditative and philosophical mood. He used historical examples to show the negativity of people, just as today many people are negative about this war. For example, he explained how people put down the Wright Brothers, the Spirit of St. Louis and Apollo 13.

“Our nation will prevail as long as even a few Americans take a stand and still believe in this country and honor her welfare above self-promotion, political advancement, and promoting unhappiness,” Russell said.

After hearing his speech, I felt that I should do more for my country and listen to what George Washington said about placing one’s nation over one’s individual self. His reflective speech instilled a feeling of patriotism in me and really made me start thinking about, as John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

After this I realized that the whole event wasn’t just about success in Iraq, but was also about reviving our pride in American heritage and culture.

The final speaker was David Bellavia, a staff sergeant in an infantry unit in Iraq. Bellavia wrote “House to House,” a book about the hand-to-hand infantry combat in Fallujah. He founded Vets for Freedom.

“We took five guys, all Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans,” he explained. “We got together and said that we are going to stand accounted for.”

Bellavia lightened the mood when he took the stage, with jokes about math and what it’s like to be a target. However, he also presented a more serious note, stating how he could not understand why the radical Muslims are attacking Israel.

“Why is it that there’s so much hatred toward Israel? What are the foreign policy issues in Israel that cause militant Islam to murder? The domestic policy is self-preservation. It’s to hold on to what they’ve had for thousands and thousands of years, and still they acquire the wrath of militant Islam,” Bellavia said.

He also pointed out, “There might be a time down the road when you’re called. When you hear the calling of your nation with a rifle or a flag. It might be with your community or the people you worship with, but understand there are people right now that want to destroy you strictly based on the fact that you worship the God you worship and because you were born to the parents you were born to. You will eventually have to confront it, and hoping and wishing they go away empowers them. No more.”

After this, I realized I needed to defend both my religion and my American heritage and to question issues presented to investigate all aspects.

Afterward, there was a book signing and all 55 “House to House” books were sold. When I got home I started reading “House to House.” I reflected about how the soldiers and marines are heroes for risking their lives to defend us.

This summer I’m visiting Washington D.C., and I will now look at our achievements with a sense of pride. I’m glad that our soldiers see Israel as an ally, and I believe militant Islam has to be defeated. It was riveting to hear actual soldiers talk about their experiences first-hand, and these four veterans are truly heroes.

Phil Cooper is a freshman at Beverly Hills High School.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the April issue is March 15; deadline for the May issue is April 15. Send submissions to