Iraq veteran organizes war protest

Soldier says the United States has blundered in its military effort

When Mike Sanger returned from military duty in Iraq in 2004, he disdained war protesters.

“I thought what I was doing was for the good of the world. I was fighting terrorists, fighting for a good cause,” the Lawrence resident, 31, said recently.

Now he is one of the protesters. And he is president of the Kansas City chapter of the national Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Sanger’s attitude about the war started to change while he was still in Iraq, he said.

“A lot of us still tried to believe in what we were doing even though we did not like the circumstances we were in,” he said.

Sanger, who grew up in Arizona, was an E-4 specialist with the Arizona Army National Guard’s 855th military police company. His unit was attached to the Third Infantry Division, which led the invasion into Iraq in March 2003. He said his main duties once Saddam Hussein’s government was overthrown involved training Iraqi police and security forces.

Sanger said his doubts about the war grew as the rift between Sunnis and Shiites became more apparent, as more weapons were turned over to Iraqis only to be found later in insurgent compounds, and as more roadside bombs exploded, killing and wounding more soldiers.

“We didn’t know who to trust,” he said. “It was like Americans were wandering around in Iraq with a target painted on their backs.”

Other concerns Sanger developed after he returned to the United States had to do with wounded veterans who had difficulty getting proper treatment and the number of suicides committed by soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. has bungled the war effort, he said.

“Nothing seemed to be going the right way,” Sanger said.

Sanger joined IVAW this year. The organization has 600 members nationwide in 24 chapters. The fledgling Kansas City chapter has four members, including Sanger. He said he is confident the membership locally and nationally will grow as the war continues and more veterans leave the military. The purpose of IVAW is to bring awareness to the public about war issues and the problems the war has caused, Sanger said.

In June, Sanger and local activist organizations staged an anti-war march and rally in Lawrence. About 100 people marched down Massachusetts Street to South Park. In September, he was involved with a similar rally in Overland Park that attracted 200 people. Another march and rally is planned for Nov. 17 at Oak Park Mall.

“We’re going to march around the mall and end up at (Kansas U.S. Sen.) Sam Brownback’s office and do a few speeches and have a good old time,” Sanger said.

Sanger has his own war-related medical problems. Roadside bombs took their toll on him, and he said he has received a PTSD diagnosis from private psychologists and medical doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sanger, a full-time student at Kansas City, Kan., Community College, and his wife, Danielle, moved to Lawrence more than a year ago from Arizona. They wanted to be closer to Danielle’s relatives in Kansas. They have two sons, ages 3 and 1.

“They will definitely be raised learning the truth about what war is and what politics are all about,” he said.