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Families support troops in Iraq

Salt Palace rally meant to counter Sheehan's anti-war protests

Joseph Williams first met fellow Vacaville, Calif., resident Cindy Sheehan in May 2004, during a local parade held in honor of their sons. Williams' son, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Jason, died while serving in Iraq — three days after the start of the war in March 2003. Just over a year later, Casey Sheehan died after his unit was attacked in April 2004.

The Cindy Sheehan he was seated next to that day watching the parade for their late soldier/sons was in no way angry, Williams said. The Cindy Sheehan he met again a year later was, and her attitude about her son's death, the war and President Bush was surprisingly and drastically different, said Williams, in Salt Lake Tuesday on the Move America Forward 20-city bus tour to counter what he and organizers say is Sheehan's negative, anti-war media campaign.

Williams and Sheehan were together a second time as part of a television news program on effects of the war back home. Clutching Casey's teddy bear, Sheehan expressed for the first time publicly her disgust for the war and the president that sent her son into it.

"All of a sudden, I started hearing more about her and it took me right back to Vietnam," the veteran said standing outside the Salt Palace Convention Center. "This country is not the country she makes it out to be. I was sick of the negative attention (toward the troops in Iraq) and needed to do more."

Williams took a week off his full-time job to join the "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy!" tour, sponsored by the non-profit conservative group. The anti-Sheehans or the pro-troop group, as they have been called, is en route to Washington, D.C.

Although the bus tour has yet to attract the media attention given Sheehan's roadside vigil near Bush's Texas ranch, they hope its positive message will counter Sheehan's negative one. The two camps have planned separate rallies this Saturday.

Deborah Johns, a bus tour leader from Roseville, Calif., and mother of soldier William Johns, currently serving his second tour in Iraq and is to return for a third next year.

"Cindy Sheehan is not the majority voice in America," Johns said. "She is the minority."

Regardless of political views, Americans should support the military fighting in Iraq, Johns said. People volunteer to join the military, she noted, adding, "My son in living his dream." At each stop, Move America Forward sets-up a "Victory in Iraq" banner for people to sign. The banners will be sent to active duty soldiers.

"They don't want to fight the media in another Vietnam," Johns said of the troops. "They are frustrated that Cindy Sheehan is getting so much attention. With her constant negative rhetoric, it inspires more suicide bombings. I think it's sad that she is the biological mother and dragging his name through the mud. I'm asking us to remember Casey as a true American hero."

A few Utahns were part of the small crowd at the rally, including Candace Chilcott, Orem, who came to Salt Lake City with other members of the group Blue Star Mothers. Chilcott heads the Utah chapter of the organization of mom's who have or had children serving in the military.

"The reason I'm here is because for three years I've seen this coming," she said, cradling an American flag. "We are all, this time, this war, targets. These men and women are brave enough to paint a bull's-eye on themselves to draw the targets away from us."

Chilcott has two sons and a son-in-law in Iraq and a daughter who served in 2003 and 2004. She said she came to the rally to help straighten out misconceptions the public has about the military.

"People have the notion that because they're engaged in war, they're war-loving or war-like. Our men and women tell me that they're over there because they love us and they love their country. I don't hear the word 'love' coming from the other side referring to these men and women."

Although Sheehan's son Casey died almost 18 months ago, Chilcott said Sheehan's vocal methods of grieving are a terrible way to handle death.

"As mothers, we picture ourselves in their place," she said. "But I don't see a loving mother there. I see one who's angry. I see it as the most destructive aspect of grief. It's making life dangerous for my kids, for all of us here. There's no way I would jeopardize their mission by complaining so vocally."

Shana Mondragon, Sandy, brought children Daniel, 5, Jacob, 3, and Sam, 1, to the rally "to show my kids that someone supports their daddy. I wanted to remind them that their dad is doing a good thing."

Her husband, Fernando, has been in Iraq since January, and Mondragon said his firsthand accounts of war in the area and what the media reports is like night and day — so much that she stopped reading, watching and subscribing.

She tells her kids that dad is in the Army in Iraq and "that there's bad guys over there that hurt the kids and the families." But it's hard for their children, she said, like in June when he came home for a brief leave of duty and her family were the only people in the airport cheering and clapping for Fernando.

"We made a big deal out of it, but nobody else did. The kids asked, 'Why aren't they cheering for my daddy?'" she said. "It's just nice to see this support in Salt Lake." She was wearing a shirt inscribed, "My husband is protecting our freedom."

The next scheduled stop on the bus tour is Cheyenne, Wyo. More tour and rally information can be found at www.MoveAmericaForward.org.


E-mail: astowell@desnews.com