Upstate NY Veterans Report for Standing Rock Deployment

Categories Energy, Environment, Protest

Four military veterans from Trumansburg are at Standing Rock to take part in the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock action against continued construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their five-vehicle caravan of about 40 veterans from Upstate New York made it to North Dakota late on Saturday, December 3, according to Elizabeth Williams, after leaving New York on Friday, December 2.

Oceti Sakowin camp in September 2016. Photo: Dakotas UMC, via Vimeo.
Oceti Sakowin camp in September 2016. Photo: Dakotas UMC, via Vimeo.

The Trumansburg veterans are Colleen Boland, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in the White House National Space Council; Nate Lewis and Kevin Basl, both U.S. Army veterans who served in Iraq; and Elizabeth Williams, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served as a linguist. Both Boland and Lewis have been arrested as part of We Are Seneca Lake actions. Their group arrived at the water protectors’ camp hours before an announcement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, would not be granted an easement to drill under Lake Oahe, a dammed reservoir on the Missouri River.

Elizabeth Williams, second from right, updates followers on her journey as part of Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. Dec 3, 2016. Photo: @elizabeth.meg Instagram
Elizabeth Williams, second from right, updates followers on her journey as part of Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. Dec 3, 2016. Photo: @elizabeth.meg Instagram

Williams sent this update from the road via email on Saturday afternoon, after taking a 16-hour shift in the driver’s seat of her van in the convoy:

“The day of deployment is always stressful and the sharp spitting winds in Trumansburg on Friday did nothing to lift our spirits. We joked that it was a preview of the water cannons. Nervous laughter sputtered from five shivering faces. Not out of fear but a defiance. We aren’t afraid. No. We are tired of it. Sad. Angry that we can’t expect anything more than inhumane practices on sovereign land from a militarized security force who values equipment over human rights.

“My father texted me as we were leaving to say that the rules of engagement gave those “we opposed” the right to escalate the use of force, up to and including lethal, if they felt their lives were in danger or that there would be damage to their equipment. Up to and including lethal force to protect big oil and gas while they threaten Native American’s right to clean water. Oh, and the use of water cannons in freezing temps was completely legal, he added. They have every right to do the same to us.

“Once we get on the road, it’s quiet. We are each lost in our own thoughts. This mission, thrown together in record time, finally underway. I feel a surge of emotion and tears well up, too many conflicting feelings to have managed adequately throughout the last few days.

“After a warm welcome at our final NY rally point at VFW Post 898 in Buffalo, our five vehicle caravan settled into what soon felt like a real deployment. Anyone who has boarded a vessel with strangers, bound only by a common sense of purpose and duty, knows the feeling. You become brothers and sisters in arms. In our van, no one asks or divulges too much personal material, but the conversations quickly shift to Jungian archetypes and the existential angst of Gen X’ers. Deep conversation for 3am driving across Ohio.

“We’re a hodge podge of characters. One van holds a 65 year old shaman, a recovering alcoholic, a single mother, the typical lost 20-something, and a yoga teacher from Vermont who somehow ended up in the upstate squad. The other a hot headed pretty boy from Westchester who missed the NYC bus, two long-time compatriots of We Are Seneca Lake and the Iraq Wars, a middle-aged artist with horn-rimmed glasses and me, the one barking the orders, herding the cats, trying to deflect any tension my forcefulness creates with humor and self-deprecation. There are more, some a few hours ahead and others a few hours behind–approximately 40 in total–all from upstate New York. We only know them by last name and the nickname we have for the caravan they’re traveling with.

“As I write this today, Saturday 12/3, we are crossing Minnesota, headed toward a not-yet-disclosed location in the Dakotas. There’s a lot of concern about communication security and being stopped. Someone just sent out the link to Loretta Lynch threatening the deployment of an armed military against a peaceful veteran army here to give brave water protectors a break from the front lines. We are still not afraid. It’s our duty. All enemies. Foreign and domestic.

“I haven’t slept since Thursday evening, and that was a shitty night’s rest. Too many emotions and thoughts and things left undone. My eyes are bloodshot but my mind still wired. One of our brothers just shared an audio clip he recorded with the help of a neighbor. Our rowdy crew came to a complete stand still, listening to his account of the horror and death he encountered outside Baghdad in 2004. It’s now referred to as Black Sunday, he tells us, one of the most fatal ambushes in the history of modern warfare.

“He was 19 at the time. It was his second day on the ground. They started out as two full companies and by nightfall, only 5 of them returned to drag the dead and dying back to base. Life forever changed that day for this young solider, who describes what it felt like to realize he wasn’t soaked from sweat, but from the blood of his compatriots.

“As we near closer to Standing Rock, the mood is pensive and sad. We are honored to be among 2000 others who heeded the call. But, as we contemplate the many sacrifices, wars, battles and the scars left behind on our brothers and sisters, we wonder if Standing Rock might be the first fight we encounter that is truly for the freedoms and rights of Americans. No matter what happens when we enter South Dakota or over the course of the next five days, we are already forever changed by sharing this experience with each other.”

In a press release, Boland stated her reasons for joining the 2,000 veterans who have self-deployed to Standing Rock.

“I took an oath to defend my nation against enemies both foreign and domestic,” said Boland. “My decision to protect the Standing Rock water protectors arises from that oath. Energy Transfer Partners and the militarized police who are serving their interests are threatening the sole source of drinking water for the people of the Standing Rock Sioux, threatening the climate, and are engaged in acts of brutality and civil rights violations. So I am proud to join a regiment of unarmed veterans who will provide solidarity and protection to our brothers and sisters in Standing Rock. My work to protect the water of Seneca Lake against another Texas-based energy company, Crestwood, prepares me for this work.”

Colleen Boland, left, and Sandra Steingraber are detained by a Schuyler County sheriff's deputy at a protest in the Town of Reading, 2014. Photo: We Are Seneca Lake
Colleen Boland, left, and Sandra Steingraber are detained by a Schuyler County sheriff’s deputy at a protest in the Town of Reading, 2014. Photo: We Are Seneca Lake

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Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.
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