Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday, December 5th

Remember, remember the fifth of December. Custer's birthday. Our celebration of the DAPL easement being denied would have him spinning in his grave... I hope.

Author's Note: I am hesitant to share this blog post. It contains some negative views on what happened out there. So I struggled with whether or not to post it. My intent in releasing it into the wild is not to disparage anyone, or cast aspersions on any of the things that happened out there. It is simply my own personal views and reflections about what I experienced. In that spirit, I cannot be anything but honest in my recording of this event. Good things happened and bad things happened. That's the nature of an event this size. People react to events and stress in different ways. I did good things, and I did not so good things. I don't think I am unique in this way. For this mission, there were so many things happening in so many places that it would be impossible to accurately portray an "average" experience. So again, this is just MY experience. Let's dive in to Monday, shall we?

I awoke early to the sounds of people moving around, already starting their day. The gym lights had been activated, and were slowly coming to life, illuminating the emergency shelter that was our home away from home. It was well before 7 am.

It was an uneventful morning, at least in my memory, because I don't really remember anything except that Laura had decided to head south and try to beat the storm to get home, and leaving for the casino to make the ceremony at 0800. Losing Laura would be a blow, as she was a really good person to have around for a situation like this. She stayed calm, listened to the elders and spoke well. She was flexible and knew how to lead by example. We said our goodbyes and got her on her way as we left for the ceremony.

I remember wondering what sort of ceremony it would be. A victory celebration? Vets honoring vets? Another semi-sloppy military formation with speeches? I heard all sorts of theories, but there were a few things I thought I knew to be true.

It was originally going to be held at camp, where the thousands of veterans would form up and march gloriously into the camp, after asking permission to enter. It would be resplendent with flags and bagpipes and lots of pomp and circumstance. I originally planned on skipping that ceremony, because I'm not really a pomp and circumstancy kind of a guy.

But due to the weather, the ceremony was to be moved indoors to the casino pavilion. That I could get on board with. Upon reaching the casino at ten minutes to 8:00. I found the place to be practically deserted.

There was no one in the pavilion hall, and very few people standing around outside of it. I wondered if I was in the right place or not. The others gathered there were wondering the same thing. The doors to the pavilion were open, so we made our way inside and grabbed some seats, figuring that if people showed up, then great.

Slowly, more people trickled in, until hotel security came and asked us to leave. Apparently the casino had not heard that our ceremony had been moved to the inside of their building, and they weren't ready for anyone to be in that space.

So we flooded back into the lobby and waited while the assembled leaders talked with hotel people and tried to figure out what was going on. Pretty quickly the lobby was packed with veterans, and once again the rumor mill blossomed.

We were going to march from here to the front lines.
(10 miles in the snow? Don't think so)
We were going to get buses from here to camp.
(And do the ceremony in the snow? Don't think so)
The REAL ceremony was going to happen in Ft. Yates...
And Cannon Ball...
And Eagle Butte...
And tomorrow.

Rumors, or scuttlebutt as we called it in the Marines, was something about military life that I had not missed.

Eventually the higher ups got everything sorted out and we were once again allowed into the pavilion space. I'm not sure what time everything kicked off, but a few veterans from (I think) a Dakota tribe sang an honoring song for the assembled veterans.

This was followed by a call for us to form up in a horseshoe formation. Again, it was obvious that a lot of us hadn't done this for awhile, but we managed. We listened as people and elders from many nations spoke to us. A medic who had been out there for the long hall took the opportunity to speak to the media that had gathered and tell the truth about some things. What had happened to a young lady whose arm had been ripped open by a gas canister launched by police, and a couple other things that directly contradicted the "official" narrative from the "authorities". I, for one, was glad that she put the media on alert that we knew the "authorities" were telling lies and getting away with it. 

Leonard Crow Dog, Arvol Looking Horse, and Faith Spotted Eagle were just a few of the Elders that spoke to us. They thanked the vets for coming, and spoke of the victory we all had shared in. They spoke of honor and togetherness in the upcoming fights, because this wasn't a final victory, it was only one in hopefully many. They spoke of their traditions and their stories, and in general it was a really powerful and moving time. I was feeling a great sense of peace and happiness listening to their stories. Knowing that we were a small part of something this momentous.

(photo from Chicago Tribune)

The guy in the above picture spoke very eloquently and I wish I knew his name, because his words brought a tear to my eye. Also, if you look at the guy in the blue shirt and backpack in the front left there, the little elder in the cammie jacket is Frances! She's awesome.

At some point however, a guy from the Wannabe tribe (White guys that wanna be native) pushed his way through the crowd up next to me. He had pasty white skin like me, and long, braided red hair with turkey feathers tied in. (He's not yet near me in the above picture.)

There was LOTS of press there, lots of pushy photographers, and a few people, like this guy, that I think were hoping for a little added attention. He started breathing quite heavily, inhaling sharply and blowing air out loudly.

At first I was concerned, because he sounded like he was choking, and when I turned to look at him, he looked as if someone had squeezed his grapes a little too hard (if you know what I mean). Being in medic mode, I wondered if I should escort him out and check him over. He really did look to be in respiratory distress. 

Then he sob/breathed in and sobbed again, and the thespian in me assessed the situation. Guy just wanted some recognition for his tears was all. I didn't really have time for that. Eventually he worked his way juuust in front of me to my left, where he continued the dramatic crying. I took a step back to leave him alone in the spotlight. It was a bit distracting.

Now, to be fair... it was a powerful ceremony up to that point. Songs and speeches from elders can have that effect on people. Lots of people were teary at times. I was teary at times. But this guy... well, he was trying too hard. Kinda put a damper on my mood a bit.

It was then that Wes Clark jr stepped forward with his small group and proceeded to apologize to Leonard Crow Dog on behalf of the US Military...

Uhhh... wait a second? What now?

Honestly, it took me by surprise. So many questions raced through my head that I may have missed the "amazing" part of the moment everyone seems to be talking about on social media.

Did Clark just apologize on behalf of the ENTIRE HISTORICAL US MILITARY? Did he get appointed spokesperson at some point? Was this sanctioned by OUR elders, or generals, or POTUS, or anybody? For me, it wasn't such an "amazing" moment as a "WTF just happened here?" moment. As Clark and his group kneeled in front of Crow Dog, Mr. Wannabe leapt from beside me over a pushy photographer and next to the group, prostrating himself alongside the kneelers, weeping loudly.

I sat in confused disbelief. A very moving ceremony had suddenly morphed into a surreal demonstration of a white guy who seemed to have his own agenda taking over so that he could get some more attention and feel better about himself.

Then came more questions.

Is this what he had planned this whole time? Would he have done this if we had all marched into camp? Had he told anybody about this little display? Who the heck does he think he is speaking for the entire US Military? Is this why he publicly asked the elder to be his grandmother on Saturday night at his quite odd talk to those of us gathered at Ft. Yates for the elders meeting?

I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Did this guy set this whole thing up to be a publicity stunt?

In most news reports you will read about how there was not a dry eye in the house, and that even the most battle hardened veterans were weeping.

Yeah. That's not entirely true. I was disoriented and a little disgusted. I mean, sure. An apology to Native Americans for our past military brutality is long overdue. Absolutely I agree with that. But for some random dude in a cavalry coat and hat to just step up and do it while claiming to be some kind of leader seemed... well... pathetic.

I know that many, MANY of us non-native veterans really want a formal apology from the US Government for the sins of our forefathers. But this didn't seem right. I felt like it actually dishonored the progress made between natives and non-natives. Random white guy comes in, makes it all about him, and apologizes, and all is supposed to be forgiven and forgotten?

Alrighty then.

After that surreal moment, they called up all the native veterans to shake hands with the Wes Clark jr group, so I stepped back for a few minutes to let that play out. Then I noticed that the line of native veterans was making its way through the rest of the veterans on the floor, so I jumped in line to shake some hands.

Now THAT was another powerful part of the ceremony. Smiles, hugs, handshakes, thankfulness for the presence of another brother or sister, and overall a great sense of spirits coming together. Black, white, native, Asian... every race and creed were there, shaking hands and coming together as one, as the ceremony had initially been geared towards. I was happy to have been there for that part, and wrote off the 'apology' as the least important part of the whole thing. Unfortunately, what the media focused on was "White Military Guy Apologizes To Natives for Historical Bad Things", and they pretty much skipped over the medic calling for the truth, the Elders words of wisdom, and the coming together of veterans from all over shaking hands and hugging. Ah, well...

As the ceremony wound down, we were instructed to go home if we could, as a huge blizzard was coming in and driving would be treacherous. The VSSR leadership dismissed us (in the military fashion), told us to go home, and I was a bit confused.

Yes, DAPL had been denied a permit. But they were still up at the drill pad. Yes, lots of WVIC's (White Veterans In Charge) were patting themselves on the backs for completion of the mission and telling each other that we had done something that every other group had been unable to in "defeating the Black Snake". But to my way of thinking, the veterans arrival may have been a straw upon the camels back, but we had done absolutely ZERO of the heavy lifting in beating the pipeline. Yes, there was a blizzard hitting, and people needed to be safe. But would leaving during a blizzard be the best bet for 2-4000 veterans that had JUST arrived?

I saw Chief Arvol Looking Horse across the bay, the keeper of the sacred pipe bundle for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nations. So I walked up to him as humbly as I could and introduced myself as a veteran and a medic. I asked him what HE wanted me to do. Stay or go?

He said that yes, a blizzard was here, but he didn't think the fight was over. He said that if I could hang around for a few more days, I should. That was all I needed to hear. If Chief Looking Horse says to stay, you stay.

We talked with the medic organizer, a very nice man by the name of Aaron, and told him we'd be sticking around for a few days in Ft. Yates if he needed us. We asked around if anything else was happening that day, and the general consensus was that everyone would be finding shelter and hunkering down to wait out the blizzard or making a break for home. As we left the casino, it appeared that we would have little choice in the matter, as the snow was falling by the foot, and the temperatures had dropped a bit as well.

Tammy and I headed back to the AJAMC in Ft. Yates, 12 miles down the road. Due to the weather and a car accident that blocked traffic for awhile, it took nearly an hour to return to our station. We had been told that the only thing happening today was finding sleeping space for everyone and making sure everyone had beds and hot chow. We would take care of medical needs at the AJAMC, and were set up to have a chill kind of day.

Upon returning, I checked Facebook again to see if anything had developed and saw that there was a large group of veterans and water protectors marching on the bridge.

Holy Charlie Foxtrot! Nothing had been mentioned about this at the casino. Nobody at Ft. Yates knew anything about it. I thought we had been ordered to stand down. But there they were, in the blizzard, marching on the bridge.

I mentioned this to Kiyoshi and Tammy and we briefly discussed whether or not to head up there. Since there was nothing happening at the AJAMC, and Kiyoshi really wanted to get in on a march, and I figured if things went bad, they'd need medics up there, we decided to go.

So we geared up and I offered to drive, having a bit of winter driving experience and such. I looked around for anyone else that might want to go, but found no one. So the three of us piled into my vehicle and started the trip north, with the understanding that if I felt it was too hazardous, we'd head back to Yates.

Well... the roads were 100% ice covered, the winds were between 20 and 40 mph across the road, and conditions were really, really bad. I had driven in worse, but not by much. The going was slow and a bit sketchy at times. At one point, while reaching out the window to try and snap the accumulating ice off the wiper, the wiper blade came loose and popped off. That was a little disconcerting, but with the defroster on high, I had a little clear space on the window to see clearly through, and since we didn't get much faster than 5-10 MPH, we continued on.

After about an hour we reached the casino, where the Tesoro gas station was, and filled the gas tank. After also acquiring large cups of hot chocolate and fixing the wiper blade, we headed back out for the ten mile drive to camp.

It took us another hour to get there. But we made it, and drove down to the Oglala Kitchen to see if we could find anyone I knew. Finding no one, the three of us decided to head to the front lines and see what, if anything, was happening.

After hiking up to the guard shack at the entrance, we asked one of the security guys if the action at the bridge was still happening.

"No." He said. "Ended about a half hour ago."

That seemed about right. Ended just before we arrived. It wasn't the first time on this adventure that I felt like I had missed something. Wouldn't be the last!

We decided that since we were there, we may as well see if there was anything we could do to help. So we headed down to the Veterans tent to check in, and walked in on a legal meeting already in progress. They were talking about what to do if you were arrested, who to call, what your options would be. That sort of thing. We listened patiently and filled out forms so the could know our preferences if we were arrested, and pretty soon were guided to the veteran medic tent.

When we walked in, they were in as much disarray as Cannon Ball and Ft. Yates had been. We dropped our gear and helped move stuff around, and load stuff from outside to inside. We heard that some GP tents were being set up down by the woods near the horse track, and that the mission for the afternoon/evening was to find people who had been sleeping in their vehicles and get them to the warmer, safer GP tents. One family that was near the medic tent was moving out of a camping tent and were getting ready to move into one of the warmer GP tents that were going up all around.

Made of a rubberized fabric, GP tents, or General Purpose tents, are about fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long, and are able to accommodate a wood burning stove or some other form of heat. They are much warmer than a little nylon tent.

Well, this guy had a bunch of gear to move across the river to the Rosebud camp, so I offered my vehicle to drive his stuff over. The trouble with this was that I had parked down by the Oglala Kitchen, clear across camp. So I bundled up and headed out to get the car.

Evening was starting to set in, and the blizzard was swirling all around. I wondered if we should just plan on staying the night. Grab some blankets and find a corner of one of the warm tents. As I walked across the camp, I stopped at a few cars that had people in them and talked to them about their sleeping arrangements. I directed a few to the GP tents, and kept walking.

By the time I got to my car and drove back to the medic tent, it was pretty much completely dark. I went in to find the guy I was helping move, only to be told that he and his family would be staying in the medic tent that night. That was good news. It would have been a bear to get him moved and settled in.

Now the three of us had to decide what our plans would be for the night. It was only six or seven o'clock. So we weighed the options carefully and decided that if we stayed, we'd need to tap into the camp resources for bedding and food and heat and sleeping space. But if we headed back, we could take it slow and still more than likely get back to the AJAMC where most of our gear was.

It would have been a good story to say that we had roughed it out in the blizzard at the camp, but it didn't seem like the best option when others there needed sleeping space as well. So we headed back into the snow to make our way to the AJAMC. Again, with the understanding that if conditions got worse, we'd go back to camp and settle in.

The 25 mile trip back was nearly uneventful. As uneventful as blizzard driving can be anyway. At some points I had to roll the window down to watch for the yellow center line through the patchy ice and blowing snow to assure we were still on the road. A few times we just stopped completely as the wind whipped the snow into complete whiteout conditions. And near the end of the two and a half hour drive, we passed a car that seemed stuck in the middle of the road. The driver of that car decided that my car was better equipped to lead in these conditions. (He was driving a little Honda Accord) and so we became a small caravan all the way back to Ft. Yates. But we went slow and we made it just fine.

Upon arriving back at the AJAMC, we found even more people had moved in, and everyone was settling in pretty well. There were a couple of young vets that had moved their gear next to the medic area, because they were there to be medics as well. The female of the two ripped into us when we came in for not taking her with us. After all, she hadn't been to the camp at ALL yet, and they were just wasting her skills by having her sit here with all of us medics. After all, she was a LPN, and "no offense, but you are just medics."

These were all things she actually said to us. She didn't understand why accommodations hadn't been made to get her to the camp, because she had travelled a long way, and deserved to see the camp and put her skills to work there, because she probably knew more than the stupid medics that had been there the whole time anyway.

Seriously... she was a charmer.

I offered to take her up to the camp the next day, but she would have none of that. If the roads were passable, they were just going home. She was angry that I had driven in the blizzard, not because it was dangerous, but because if I had made the trip, then she could have gone as well in their car if someone had told them about it in the first place.

Eventually I just had to walk away. I'm pretty sure she suffers from PTSD, and positive that it is untreated, since she spent a lot of that evening talking to another vet about how she blew off her VA appointments because she was smarter than all of the VA doctors.

On the plus side, most of the other vets that were there were cheerful and having a fun adventure. Even when word came down that we would probably be snowed in the next day and not going anywhere until the evening, most people just smiled and nodded. After all, most of the time spent in the military is "hurry up and wait", and we were all in the same boat, so most people decided to just make the best of it.

One group of vets decided that we really needed a chain of command, so they put themselves in charge. That was fine by most of us, because we had spent the day with people that HAD to be busy. Organizing, sweeping, cleaning, more organizing. More power to them. So we had a guy named Ari as our CO, a guy named Clark as the Sgt. Major, various HQ admin people, and then we had Margaret as our Chief Medical Officer.

Margaret... where to begin with Margaret.

She called a meeting for all of the medical people to gather and get organized. Introducing herself only as a "Type A" personality, she put me in charge of making a list of names and ratings so we could better know who all of the medics were and what we were capable of.

While I was getting names, she seemed to be very concerned with who could do ALS and who could do BLS (Advanced vs. Basic Lifesaving Skills) She assured us that if we needed any "big" drugs more than aspirin of Band-Aids, that she had connections and could get us whatever we needed. The generally confused consensus around the room was that we probably wouldn't need to do anything to dramatic by way of lifesaving, and all of us had BLS, so it wouldn't be a big deal.

But she went on to tell us that the IHS (Indian Health Services) Hospital that was only a few blocks away wouldn't take non-natives unless it was life threatening(!) and that we were ALL ON OUR OWN HERE WITH NO BACKUP!!! We tried to assure her that we could handle non-life-threatening stuff here and if there was something dire, we could take it to the hospital. Still, she was adamant that we all be aware that she had connections to medical drug suppliers and that we be ready for the worst... zombie apocalypse maybe?

She wanted to set up a special medical area (which, as you may recall, we had already done in the gym), and wanted a private room for the more severe cases, and wanted to consolidate all of the medical gear in one place under her control so she knew who had what, and so on and so on.

I didn't really pay much attention. I had had a pretty long day, and was pretty tired by this point. If she wanted to be Lord High Poobah, that was fine by me. So long as she stayed out of the way and let us do what we needed to do. I really just wanted to go to bed and sleep. She had us go around the room and say our name and our rating, and when it was done, Tammy asked her what her qualifications were.

She snapped at Tammy that she had lost over 300 friends on 9/11 and she had more training in biological warfare and survival scenarios like this and other things than probably anyone in the room, and kinda went into scary lecture mode for a bit, so I tuned her out again while she ranted about how qualified she was to lead us.

When I tuned back in, she was saying that calling all of us 'Medics' just wasn't right, since some of us had lapsed certifications, and some didn't, some were basics and some were paramedics, some were combat and some were not, and some were RN's and LPN's. So she was trying to come up with a system to have the general population call us by our skill set or something and trying to find a way to label ourselves so that people would know who to seek for specific kinds of medical problems.

This was the straw that broke my back.

I told her that she was making things WAAAAY harder than they needed to be. We already had a medic area, and anyone needing a medic would probably only care that we answered to 'Medic' or 'Doc' or 'Anybody got a Tylenol'. We were only going to be here for a day or two, and we really shouldn't be making things more complicated and confusing than we need to.

Yes, I used my perturbed voice, and I probably shouldn't have. But JEEZ... I wanted to sleep! So I kinda shut things down and said that we'd all be called 'medics', and that the medic area in the gym was staying put. There was more discussion about making more serious cases a 'level 2' and bringing them to the private room for higher care, but by that point I was done listening.

The meeting ended and I headed back out to my cot, where another list found me. It was started so Margaret could get a list of all the medics and their ratings.

What happened to the one I gave her? That question was only met with shrugs.

But, I basked in the glow of laughter and camaraderie in the gym, and that soon had my spirits up again. It had been a long and busy day, and I wasn't really sure what to make of all of the developments. We had all showed up essentially to be a show of force. We had planned on being there for a week, but now after less than 48 hours we were being told to go home. Except now we were told not to go because of the blizzard.

We were a mix of people that had originally landed in Eagle Butte, Cannon Ball, Camp or the casino, and different groups had all sorts of different swag. Just like on deployments, lots of people seemed to find souvenirs.

The Eagle Butte group had been through a ceremony with the Cherokee, had been given "war paint" on their cheeks and made "warriors", and had been given four color wristbands.

The Casino group had t-shirts that someone had been selling.

We Cannon Ballers... well...we had each other! That was the best thing to come of the past couple days. The friendships that were forming.

There were some other little stress filled moments that night between some people. But for the most part, we all settled in and prepared for whatever Tuesday would hold for us.

More Later

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