Before the war in Iraq, Becky Sommerhauser was a shy housewife from a St. Louis suburb who had never spoken publicly.
Now that her son may be deployed to Iraq in the coming months, the mother of seven is speaking out.
As part of Moms with a Mission — a group affiliated with the Democratic National Committee that includes eight mothers and wives of soldiers in Iraq — Sommerhauser spoke to a crowd outside the Boone County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. Joined by Jane Jensen of Wisconsin and Gwen Walz of Minnesota, Sommerhauser highlighted what her group says are the failed military policies of President Bush.
“We see a lot of stickers out there that say, ‘Support our troops,’ ” Sommerhauser said. “But do we really support our troops? Actions speak louder than words.”
Sommerhauser said troops need the assurance that they have the proper equipment for combat and that their families will be supported financially.
“We hear a lot of rhetoric, especially during elections, and it doesn’t really mean anything if we aren’t doing the things necessary to make sure that our soldiers are safe,” she said.
Sommerhauser said her son decided to go into psychological operations for the U.S. military when he discovered his eyesight was too poor to be a pilot. Although her son’s unit is not in Iraq, Sommerhauser said she is worried it could be by December.
Jensen’s son has been in Iraq since January. She said she began supporting Kerry before the Democratic primaries and now she wants to “put a face on the soldiers.”
“I think people should understand that when one soldier dies, whole families are disrupted forever,” she told the crowd.
Walz said her family’s life was turned upside down while her husband, Tim, was deployed to Italy to support the operation in Afghanistan last year.
“My hope and my prayer is that we do not have another deployment,” she said.
Walz also emphasized that troops should be prepared for the work they are doing. She said her husband had been trained in artillery for 23 years with the Army National Guard, but when his unit was deployed he was ordered to serve as a military policeman.
“We cannot put our soldiers, our National Guard, our reserve and our regular army in a position where they are not doing what they have been trained to do,” she said.
Walz also said she was appalled when Bush lobbied not to extend family separation and hazard duty payments. The $250 her husband received in family separation pay allowed him to speak weekly with his daughter, she said.
Paul Sloca, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said President Bush has supported increased pay for the military and increased spending by 40 percent for veterans since taking office. Sloca said the president has provided U.S. troops in Iraq with $87 billion in funding, which Kerry voted against.
“The president is keenly aware of the sacrifices made by military families, and he has responded to them at every opportunity,” Sloca said.