Hot Springs, South Dakota — Not all local opponents of the war against Iraq were publicly protesting on Thursday.
“I support most of those people who do that — we need them — but I’m uncomfortable with it myself,” Hot Springs businessman Redge Dass said.
Dass is wary of being associated with left-wing “fringe groups” that sometimes show up at demonstrations. He also said that now that the war has started, he wants to focus on supporting troops. “I’m 100 percent behind the GIs,” he said. “We need to give them everything they need to finish their mission and get out of there.”
Dass has good reason to be empathetic with soldiers. He served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years, from 1982 to 1993. He and his wife recently moved to Hot Springs, where they have several enterprises — including concert promotion and yoga instruction.
Dass served with Navy Seabees, the famed construction unit, during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Two years earlier, he saw action in Panama during Operation Just Cause.
“In Panama, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “That was a weird environment.”
His small unit was repairing damage at a military “fuel farm” when the operation to oust Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega began. Dass and his fellow engineers and a small group of U.S. Marines were attacked with mortars and small-arms fire.
The Seabees and Marines returned fire and drove the attackers off, although Dass gives most of the credit to the Marines. “They were there to make sure we didn’t hurt ourselves,” he said. “It was over in 20 minutes.”
Dass spent Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, training other Navy personnel to work more effectively with Marines in combat. “I wasn’t a frontline soldier, but I was sending kids out there,” he said.
Dass supported Desert Storm. He even remembers being disappointed that the coalition didn’t attack Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein. The case against Saddam was clearer back then, he said. “It was cut and dried. He had invaded another sovereign nation. We knew what we were dealing with.”
Dass opposes this second war with Iraq.
“Maybe I’m more geopolitically sophisticated now,” Dass said. “I’m not convinced that Iraq is an overwhelming national-security threat, and I’m not convinced there’s a direct connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.”
He also believes the manner in which the United States went to war was unconstitutional. He doesn’t think the Bush administration is wholly to blame for that, either. “Congress has abdicated its role,” he said.
Dass has joined Veterans for Common Sense, a national group opposed to the Iraq war, but for the most part he has remained on the sidelines of protests. Still, he is angered by supporters of U.S. policy who call the protesters and other war opponents “unpatriotic.”
“I do resent that,” he said. “I’m a military veteran and a combat veteran. I have a right to speak out.”
Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org