"This Is Part Of The Battlefield"
When Sergeant David D. Aguina stepped up to the microphone at the YearlyKos forum on the panel on "The Military and Progressives: Are they that Different?" and began to quietly rebut many of the points that had been made about the failure of "The Surge," he knew he wouldn't have an easy time of it. That is why he prepared a four-inch thick loose leaf binder full of charts, graphs, releases from the Department of Defense, the State Department, and Central Command, as well as articles from the mainstream media.
But for all his preparation, he was still taken by surprise when one of the panelists, John Soltz, founder of the anti-war group Votevets.Org, took him to task and silenced him on the grounds that Aguina was wearing his uniform while expressing his political opinions.
"Technically, he was right," Aguina concedes. "He is a commissioned officer in the army and I follow the rules. I will respect his authority which is why today, I came in civilian uniform."
Aguina spoke to Pajamas Media on Saturday, returning to YearlyKos the day after he was led away from the panel by Soltz, now blending into the crowd in a charcoal gray suit with a white shirt and a black tie.
Despite his change of wardrobe, he remains boiling mad at Solz for angrily chastising him in public for violating military regulations. If he wants to get technical about it, Aguina counters, two can play at that game.
"If I'm in violation of AR670-1 which is the regulation he brought up, then he's in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 88 which says no commissioned officer can criticize a government official."
Aguina also pointed out that Stolz violated the code of behavior between a commissioned and non commissioned officer. "Article 91," he said, forbids a commissioned officer from criticizing a non commissioned officer, and behaving in the "condescending" manner in which he was treated. "People in that audience didn't have to see an American soldier be as rude and disrespectful toward another American soldier."
Why did he bother attending a conference and a panel where he knew he wouldn't be welcome? He had come to a conference attended largely by anti-war and even some anti-military netroots because he said, "This is part of the battlefield."*
(Aguina is currently attending Western Illinois University majoring in Political Science with a minor in Military Science. While Pajamas Media can confirm that Sergeant Aguina is in the army reserves, we have yet to confirm that he served in Iraq as he said he has. UPDATED: We have received documents proving he indeed served in Iraq.)
Accompanied by his mother Iris Hernandez, the young reservist quietly, politely but persistently approaching YearlyKos attendees and tried to make the case that the surge is working and that we shouldn't abandon the Iraqi government or people.
"A lot of the people here, they're pretty much fixed in their opinion. But there are some who are logical, they're smart and they're good people and they understand the argument I'm making. So they're pretty much fixed in their opinion but they can't prove me wrong."
Aguina believes that the "netroots" - Soltz in particular, had used the uniform issue as an excuse to muddy the waters regarding what he had to say.
"They disagree with me because of my message, but they used the technicality of the uniform to try and influence something. And believe me, John Soltz? I am not done with him yet. I was up all night researching the USMCJ finding all the things he did wrong."
"He lost his professional standard when he couldn't control himself on stage."
Did he really expect to change anyone's mind?.
"I understand trying to change people's mind is a lot harder than it would seem or I would like it to be. I'm just here to provide information for people. If they want to talk, if they want to know, I'll just show them."
He said that the conference-goers had treated him with respect and listened carefully to what he had to say, arguing strenuously against him but hearing him out nonetheless.
"There's quite few people here who are open-minded and will listen. And even if they don't agree with me, I at least thank them for listening. I've dealt with other people who insult me and then walk away."
"This isn't something political for me. I have an emotional connection with those people in Iraq."
To illustrate his point, he tells the story of one day while he was on guard duty, protecting a group of Iraqi workers, his command was unable or unwilling to supply him with lunch.
"With the little food they had - and I mean little food - they each pitched in some of their own lunch so that I could eat. It's amazing that 5 Shiites and 2 Sunnis cared more about my well-being than my own soldiers.
Sergeant Aguina then took a candy wrapper out of his wallet where he had carefully folded it.
It was just a wrapper. But for him, it was a reminder that there are many Iraqis who are grateful for the American presence and that his personal connection with those people was worth standing up in a place like YearlyKos where there was passionate objections to his views and opinions.
"That act of compassion meant so much to me that I kept the wrapper from the first piece of food they gave me and I kept it in my body armor for the rest of the time I was in Iraq to remind me that there's a lot of good people over there that deserve to be free."
*this quote was earlier attributed by Aguina to Gen. Petraeus. He has since told PJM that it was misattributed.