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Gold Star Families Lead Rally to Support Troops, Their Mission

By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2005 – Led by scores of Gold Star family members from throughout the United States, several hundred Americans today rallied on the National Mall here to support U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Students who traveled from Staunton, Va., to show their support for the troops, show off the banner they signed that will be sent to troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Rally to Honor Military Families, held Sept. 25 on the National Mall in Washington, was sponsored by Move America Forward, Free Republic and Right March. Photo by William Moss

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Their message was simple: "We support our troops," said rally organizer Kristinn Taylor. "We love them and we support their mission."

"We know that what they are doing is just and noble," he added. "We remember what happened on Sept. 11. We know that it's because of the sacrifices that they are making day in and day out, night and day, that we have not had another terrorist attack on our soil."

"Keep doing what you're doing," agreed Kevin Bush of Reston, Va. "We all love you; we all support you; and it's worth it."

Kevin's Mom, Jan Bush of south New Jersey, echoed that sentiment: "Hi, guys! Don't give up," she said. "We're with you; we're backing you; and we know that you're going to succeed."

"How could you not be here?" asked Ann Baish of McLean, Va, as she fought back tears. "They're our troops. And we need to stand by them and let them know over there how much we do support them. ... There are just so many Americans that are proud of our troops," she explained, "and we just came out because we want them to know it."

In fact, rally participants were united in their belief that the media give too much attention to critics of the war, while deliberately downplaying the deep reservoir of public support that U.S. troops -- and their mission -- actually enjoy.

"Overall, Americans support our troops no matter what," said John Wroblewski, whose son, Marine Corps Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski, died in Ramadi, Iraq, April 6, 2004.

Yet, according to Debby Argel Bastion, "the news seems to, for some reason or other, sensationalize, I think, the very few people who really don't have an understanding of what's going on over there, and who oppose what we're doing" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her son, 28-year-old Air Force Capt. Derek Argel, died May 30, 2005, when his plane crashed in eastern Diyala province. He and his special tactics squadron were training the Iraqi air force and identifying for them emergency landing sites. Argel, three other U.S. military personnel, and one Iraqi officer, 34-year-old old Capt. Ali Abass, were buried in Arlington National Cemetery in August.

Those who support the troops "are quiet and silent types," said 21-year-old Air Force Airman Ryne Regan. "So you don't hear a lot from us, but we're out there in big numbers. That's why a rally like this is so important: to let our guys know we're behind them." Regan, who waved a large American flag, said he is deploying to Iraq in two weeks.

Gold Star family members said that older, full-time soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are unfazed by the negative media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. "They're professionals, and they stay focused on the mission," Wroblewski explained. But according to Bastion, "for the younger men that are over there and maybe struggling a little bit -- maybe it's their first time over there - Derek would say, 'It is just terrible for their morale.'"

Argel told his mom that "we have to focus on telling them that that is not the way that the general public feels. The general public loves us and loves what we're doing."

For that reason, advised Reed, "Don't pay attention to what's going on in the media. Pay attention to what's coming to you in the care packages and the letters and the e-mails. That's the sentiment of the American people, not what you see in the media today."

Some Iraq war veterans at the rally cautioned, though, that that's easier said than done.

"You know, when we were in Iraq and saw the people back home protesting us, it killed us, you know. It took away from it a little bit," said 28-year-old former Army Spc. Ryan Bowman, who served 12 months in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, from February 2003 to February 2004.

Bowman, who hails from Philadelphia, attended the rally with his friend and fellow Iraq war veteran, 27-year-old former Army Sgt. Michael Lilli, also of the 101st. Bowman and Lilli are no longer active-duty soldiers.

Bowman was married two days ago. However, Bowman postponed his honeymoon to attend the rally, because, he said, "I've got to be there. My wife knows why; she knows the reasons. She couldn't' come, but ... our friends are over there now; and I've got to be here to support them."

Lilli, who hails from Baltimore, choked up and fought back tears as he recounted a particularly poignant moment in Mosul, Iraq. He and his team were clearing a series of hard-fought city blocks, he said, when a young Iraqi boy who spoke English fairly well volunteered his services as a translator.

"He was with me and my team as we were clearing one of these buildings," Lilli said, "and he asked me if he could take a picture of Saddam off the wall. And I said, 'Sure, go ahead.' And he put it on the ground and he started stomping on it."

Lilli had to pause to regain his composure. The memory of that moment clearly stirred in him great emotion. But the Iraqi child was stomping on the picture "because Saddam had his family killed," Lilli said. "And I saw in him why we were there. ... They need us to be there. And you'll never see that on the news."

Diane Von Ibbotson lost her son, Army Cpl. Forest Jostes, in Iraq. He had been setting up a medical evacuation point for fellow soldiers who were wounded and were trapped in an abandoned building in Sadr City. "We're here for our troops," she said. "They have our back over there and we have their backs right here."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageKathy Wood (right) and friends, of Buttons and Badges of Alexandria, Va., stand in front of their table handing out free buttons during the Rally to Honor Military Families, held Sept. 25 on the National Mall in Washington. Photo by William Moss  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image"The Right Brothers," from Nashville, Tenn., perform during the Rally to Honor Military Families held Sept. 25 on the National Mall in Washington.Photo by William Moss  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Gold Star Mother from Indiana attending the Rally to Honor Military Families holds an image of her son, Pfc. Jason Meyer, who died in Iraq. Photo by William Moss  
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