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GI Coffeehouses: Serving Ourselves Since 1967
By Poppy Kohner & LT Taylor
In downtown Killeen, soldiers are organizing...
Not far from the East Gate of Fort Hood, two GIs are casually chatting outside on the porch, their cigarette smoke blending with the warm aroma of coffee, which beckons them inside the coffeehouse. Peek inside Under The Hood, and you will see more active duty soldiers, veterans and community members relaxing on a sofa, listening to music and catching up on the week's events. On the walls, "War is Trauma" is written in large letters, and a stencil of the word, "stigma" has been stuck up as a reminder of a previous art project, and of what people here are fighting against. Pocket-sized reading materials are arranged in a stand, which summarize GIs rights, what the Army doesn't want you to know. On one side of the room is a small stage area with a microphone, from which, spoken word poetry regularly fills the space to an enthusiastic crowd.
This scene could very well be from a summer evening in 1968, from the corner of 4th and Avenue D in downtown Killeen, when Oleo Strut was first opened, and the coffeehouse movement was beginning to thrive. Back then, some 600 people might frequent the coffeehouse every week, disaffected with the war and in need of a place outside of the barracks, away from the influence of the military. It was a place where GIs could find support and solidarity. "War is a terrible thing that changes a person, and contact with supportive people is a must," says Terry DuBose, a Vietnam Veteran who frequented Oleo Strut.
Today, 44 years later, Under The Hood Cafe and Outreach Center, is offering just that. Active duty members, veterans, civilians, and IVAW organizers make up a team who are still asking the same questions that were relevant back in the late 60s and early 70s — How do we empower ourselves and each other, share our personal stories, and build them into into a collective struggle?
Open 5 days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, Under The Hood is working to build community and support leaders in the GI resistance movement. During weekly organizing meetings, active duty service members and veterans focus on the obstacles Ft. Hood soldiers face, for example, getting care for issues such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Sexual Trauma. At present, the community is leading a campaign on base to hold General Campbell accountable to his own command policies which, according to recent interviews carried out by Under The Hood, are simply not being carried out. The community is also demanding that service members have the right to heal from the traumas of war and military service.
"In our fight for service members right to heal, we have to look at the impact of what we are fighting," said Lori Hurlebaus, director of the cafe, about the healing work of Under the Hood. "People cannot fight for systemic change in the military without having their own basic needs met whether that's through a referral to a counselor or lawyer, an art project or support from this community."
The coffeehouse movement of the 60s provided important solidarity between military, civilian, race, ethnicity and gender. Today, at weekly Women's Nights, women come together from all parts of the community to discuss openly how the military affects women's lives every day. The Ribs and Rights days are the highlight of the week. The whole community gets together to discuss a different topic, which is usually led by a different active duty member each week, before sharing stories over a delicious BBQ. On Saturdays, you can find art projects and garden tools scattered around as the community finds healing through creative expression.
Since May of 2011, Under the Hood Cafe has been working with Iraq Veterans Against the War on the Operation Recovery campaign to stop the deployment of traumatized troops. Based on models of poor people's movements, Operation Recovery is using a focused campaign to win concessions from General Campbell in order to improve the lives of soldiers and families, and train leaders who will carry on the work beyond this fight to other bases and other movements. Through daily outreach on post, organizers have been gathering personal stories from soldiers denied care, on over-prescribed medications, and redeployed despite clear symptoms of trauma and injury. In the face of a massive draw-down, troops are being processed out and denied benefits for symptoms due to their military service. By building a fight around service members access to care, this campaign does not allow the command to abuse service members in order to extend occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan despite a lack of public support. Putting power and resources in the hands of soldiers to take care of themselves and each other has the potential to change the way the military does business, to bring troops home, and slow the drum beat for a war with Iran.
"Our campaign is forcing the military to re-evaluate its strategy and make an earlier withdrawal by highlighting the toll these occupations have taken on service members and civilians such as the recent massacre in Afghanistan," said Maggie Martin, an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War and resident organizer at Under the Hood. "Raising awareness of the numbers of traumatized soldiers and lack of adequate care makes it clear we are in no position to engage in future conflicts."
Operation Recovery and Under the Hood need your support to continue this critical work, to find out more or make a donation check out www.ivaw.org and www.underthehoodcafe.org.
Poppy Kohner is an PhD student from the department of Anthropology and Sociology at University of Glasgow, and is currently living in Killeen, Texas while working on her thesis in Militarization and Resistance. LT Taylor is currently a resident organizer with the Operation Recovery campaign at Ft Hood and a member of the Civilian Soldier Alliance (www.civsol.org).
Under the Hood Cafe and Outreach Center is strategically located just outside of Fort Hood,
the largest military base in the United States, and is home to the Operation Recovery Campaign.
The center provides a safe space for service members and veterans to meet and lead the fight for
the right to heal and concessions from III Corps Commander General Campbell.