Coffee House by Fort Lewis Would Support Veterans

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

August 6, 2008 – A group of local veterans hopes to launch a coffeehouse near Fort Lewis where soldiers – both active-duty and out of the military – could brew both good java and good company.

The coffeehouse would be a safe place, off base, where GIs and their families could go for support, information about their rights and a chance to express what’s going on in their lives, said Mateo Rebecchi, 24, a student at Seattle Central Community College and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the coffeehouse backers.

“We’re trying to reach out to soldiers who feel they have nowhere to go,” he said.

The coffeehouse would be the third such effort around the country, said Molly Gibbs, a community organizer who has worked with Veterans for Peace and other Seattle advocacy groups.

Rising concerns about the effect of longer deployments, the increase in post-deployment suicide rates, sexual assaults in the military, PTSD and employment have created a need for a place where people can go to share experiences and find resources to cope, she said.

These kinds of coffeehouses have a time-honored tradition in the post-Vietnam era, said Gibbs, whose first job in the mental health field was with Vietnam vets, every one of whom came back “indelibly shaped” by that experience. Something one of them told her has stayed with her and kept her motivated to help veterans connect.

“I had a friend who was a medic in Vietnam,” she said. “He told me, ‘I left who I was over there – I never came back.’ “

The coffeehouse, which has yet to be named, is still in the fundraising stages, said Rebecchi, who estimated $30,000 is needed to launch and operate the first year. The group is hoping to nab space in an abandoned coin-operated laundry near the base. The cafe also would serve up music, movies, poetry slams, lectures and access to legal help.

Rebecchi said one of the main goals of the coffeehouse is to inform soldiers and veterans of their rights and to encourage them to speak their minds, even if they don’t agree with official military policy.

One of the best things the community can do for soldiers, and soldiers can do for each other, is to listen to each other’s stories, Gibbs said. Time and again, she’s heard from veterans and active-duty military that what they needed most when they got back from a deployment was a chance to share what happened to them and have it be heard in a nonjudgmental way.

Rebecchi hopes the climate of the coffeehouse will encourage more military members – both active duty and not – to consider ways to end the war in Iraq.

Rebecchi served a four-year tour in the Persian Gulf with the Coast Guard before being honorably discharged. He said he began questioning the war effort while he was deployed.

“Ultimately, what’s going to stop it is the GIs standing up and saying, ‘We’re not going to fight anymore,’ ” he said.

The coffeehouse effort, which also has been endorsed by Seattle Veterans for Peace, Citizen Soldier, Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Physicians for Social Responsibility, is holding a fundraiser at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle on Aug. 25 from 7 to 9 p.m., featuring Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier and co-founder of the Different Drummer Internet Cafe near Fort Drum in upstate New York.

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