A new coalition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is hoping to counter the oil industry–backed “Energy Citizens” rallies with its own call to pass a climate bill and end dependence on fossil fuels.
Under the name of Operation Free, the group aims to rally other vets to the cause. “We’re a coalition of leading veterans and national security organizations who recognize that climate change is a major threat, and support fast, bold action,” reads its website. “It is time for Americans to rise to the challenge, and we’re taking on the fight.”
In a call with reporters on Thursday, Operation Free members argued that dependence on foreign energy sources and threats posed by climate change put American military personnel and national security at risk.
“As a former U.S. Army captain and a veteran of Iraq, I understand firsthand how our dependence on foreign oil is a threat to national security,” said Jon Powers, chief operating officer at the Truman National Security Project, a sponsor of Operation Free. “We’re looking to Washington to take this threat seriously and come up with policy that reduces the threat to national security.”
Maine State Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, an Iraq War veteran and Operation Free’s campaign coordinator, said that his time in Iraq made him realize the hazards of being dependent on other nations and on a single major energy source like oil. He criticized the American Petroleum Institute, which is organizing the “Energy Citizens” rallies: “It is really disheartening how a front group is watering down any meaningful debate,” he said. “The Energy Citizens is making America less secure.”
Operation Free’s first major event will be in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9 and 10, when 100 veterans will come to the capital to lobby for a Senate climate and energy bill. The group is also spreading its message through the internet and in-person outreach, as well as through partnerships with national security organizations and other nonprofits.
The Operation Free website uses military terminology to try to engage support. “Mission: Secure America with Renewable Energy,” declares the site, asking volunteers to “enlist” in the cause and “deploy in support of Operation Free.” Each page prominently features a photo of a hand holding a gun with an oil fire burning in the distance.
Kevin Jones, an Iraq veteran, student at the University of Missouri, and vice president of the Mizzou Student Veterans Association, said he would see oil and fuel trucks in Iraq “lined up, one right after another.” “It’s disheartening to know that we’re so dependent on a source like that,” said Jones. “There are brand new, renewable sources available right here.”