Iraq vets unite for respect and support
An Iraq War veteran who got fed up with people using soldiers and sailors for political gain has formed a college group to battle for them.
Nevada City native Erik Christensen served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and was part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He has since started attending the college in Southern California.
That’s where he began the apolitical UC Irvine Veterans Student Union.
“A lot of things are being done for the vets by people who don’t understand who we are and what we stand for,” Christensen said. “Everybody in the military has a story to tell, but we don’t want to be written off or used as political pawns.”
The 2001 Nevada Union High School graduate and about 30 other veterans make up the group, which is lobbying for the new version of the G.I. Bill to pass the U.S. Congress. When they’re not talking to groups of people, they volunteer at Veterans Administration hospitals.
“Our mission is to get as much information out there as possible,” Christensen said. Members include liberals, conservatives and independents like himself.
“We tell people our stories and we try to stay away from the political side of things,” Christensen said. “Everybody’s opinion (about the war) is just as right as the others. Ann Coulter and Michael Moore say its black and white, but it’s not.
“Should we be there?” Christensen said. “That’s a complicated answer, because it’s an onion of issues.
“To pick just one is a little wrong,” Christensen said. “No matter what position you take, you’ll be right and you’ll be wrong.”
The other major thrust for the group is to get California law changed for veterans who want to earn scholarships to college. Currently, veterans who earn scholarships and use the G.I. Bill to pay for school see their military benefits stripped off the scholarships dollar for dollar, Christensen said.
“I went into the military because I needed the money for school,” Christensen said. “We do a good job in the service and then we come out and get burned. “We’re trying to get better benefits.”
The veterans advocate suffers from back and leg injuries caused by hauling hundreds of pounds around the desert and concrete streets. He also had post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned and decided to turn it into an educational pursuit.
“I’m doing much better, but every day’s a struggle,” Christensen said. “I do research at UC Irvine on post-traumatic stress,” with data supplied by Ft. Lewis, Wash.
“Active duty soldiers have greater amounts of anger, depression and anxiety” than the general populace because of war and military stressors, Christensen said. “Part of that, I found, was due to relationship problems that create psychological problems.”
The retired soldier will be a senior next year, majoring in social psychology and criminal justice. He wants to go to law school and, after that, “maybe get involved in the political process.”
The soldier-turned-student’s father, John Christensen, is serving with the U.S. Army Reserves in Sacramento. That’s been difficult for Erik’s mother, Donna Christensen, although her husband gets to come home on weekends.
That isn’t half as bad as 2003, when both men were in the service at the same time, Donna Christensen said.
“It was very difficult, but we survived. People are resilient,” she said. “You go on, or you crumble.”
Apparently, her son has heeded her advice.
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