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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Testimony on Oregon Senate Iraq Memorials

Salem, Oregon April 23, 2007


Senate Rules Committee

Senator Kate Brown, Chair
Senator Ted Ferrioli, Vice-Chair
Senator Betsy Johnson
Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson
Senator David Nelson

Testimony on SM1, SJM6, SJM9, HJM9, related to the Iraq War
by Sean Cruz
April 23, 2007

Exhibits:

Photograph of Spc Tyler Cruz, unarmored humvee, 2004
Photograph of Spc Tyler Cruz, humvee with welded armor, 2004
Photograph of Spc Aaron Cruz, 2001
Certificate of recognition for Aaron Cruz, 2005
Letter from US Dept. of Veterans Affairs re Aaron’s medical records, 2005


Madame Chair, members of the Committee, for the record my name is Sean Cruz.

I do not intend to read all of my written testimony, which I have provided to the Committee. I would like to provide some foundational information and then stand aside for others to speak.

Mrs. Michele DeFord, a Gold Star Mother, whose son David Johnson was killed in Iraq , could not be here for this hearing, and has requested that I read her testimony into the record on her behalf.

I will do so at the Chair’s convenience, and otherwise will remain available to answer any questions the Committee may have about the legislation before you.

I appear before you today as the father of two Army National Guard soldiers, and as a member of the Northwest chapter of Military Families Speak Out ( MFSO ).

There are several MFSO members present to testify today, and we all speak equally for ourselves and as some of the faces of Military Families Speak Out.

I have been a resident of NE Portland for the past dozen years. For the past five of those years, my boys have been subject to combat deployment to the war in Iraq .

My sons are: Specialist Aaron Cruz, who died in 2005 at the age of 23, largely from medical neglect while he was under military orders, and Specialist Tyler Cruz, who has at this time—at the age of 21—so far—served two year-long deployments in combat in Iraq as a .50 caliber machine gunner on a humvee.

Sgt. David Johnson was killed doing the same job my son Tyler has done through two deployments in combat in Iraq .

I want to note for the record that my sons’ Army National Guard unit was first placed on alert in the Spring of 2002, ordered to pack for deployment to Iraq on 24 hours’ notice, and this April marks my family’s fifth year of continued, open-ended, actual participation in the catastrophe in Iraq .

I have provided five exhibits to the Committee to illustrate several points regarding the Iraq-related legislation before you.

These exhibits are:

(1) This early 2004 photograph of Tyler at the age of 19 shows him manning his .50 on a humvee with no armor or protection whatsoever. He is completely unprotected by even a windscreen.

(2) Later 2004 photographs such as this one showed that his unit, an engineering battalion, welded scrap steel plate for protection as best they could and, during that first deployment, he escorted convoys all over central Iraq and provided security for his unit under those conditions.

Tyler called me from the Baghdad area in 2004 and asked me if I’d heard of the “Highway to Hell.” Of course, I had.

“We paved it,” he told me, with a lot of pride in his voice. That’s my boy.

(3) This is a photograph of my son Aaron at the age of 18.

(4) This is the certificate, signed with George W. Bush, President of the United States ’ very own autopen, which reads:

“The United States of America honors the memory of Aaron A. Cruz. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States .”

(5) The last exhibit is a copy of the letter from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, dated November 2005, in response to my request for access to Aaron’s medical records. It reads:

“Mr. Cruz’s request will be forwarded to our privacy act officer for processing of his request. He should be advised that we have a large backlog of requests for copies of records and that it may take up to a year before his request is processed. This report of contact will be faxed and serve as a final response to this inquiry.”

For the record, I have heard nothing regarding my son since receiving this letter.

It is common knowledge that the medical system is overburdened and chaotic, and there is little expectation that it will receive either the funding or the commitment it needs in order to properly care for the injured coming back from the war.

I want also to note for the record that from April 21 until April 25, 2005 , I was absent from my job as Senator Avel Gordly ’s Legislative Aide during the 2005 legislative session.

For those five days, I was at my son Aaron’s bedside as he lay comatose in Utah . He was pronounced dead at 4:50 p.m. on April 25, 2005 .

His Utah Army National Guard unit’s entire officer and NCO staff turned out in full dress for Aaron’s memorial service and they presented his mother with a flag in his honor.

They spoke of his commitment to the unit and his despair at being left behind, due to his medical condition, which continued to deteriorate until he died.

His First Sergeant said that of the 200 soldiers he was taking to Iraq , most probably didn’t want to go, but here was one soldier who absolutely did want to go, and he couldn’t.

We buried Aaron on May 3, and 8 hours later, my son Tyler was on his way back to camp in Southern California to prepare for his second deployment to Iraq .

This is how we treat our soldiers and honor their service and their sacrifice in the real world we military families are living in.

Tyler served his second deployment in Ramadi, in Al Anbar province.

During that year, of the 4,000 soldiers and Marines fighting in Ramadi, 75 were killed and more than 1,000 were serious casualties, including many cases of Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, the signature injury of this war.

What has been said about the living conditions for those troops is that they lived in squalor, under fire every day and every night.

During that year, no day and no night passed without my being aware that my son—the one son I have left—could be killed or severely injured at any moment.

Aaron did not die as a result of combat in Iraq , as he would have much preferred.

He died from a life-threatening seizure disorder for which he was receiving treatment while he was living with me in our home in Portland , prior to his 2003 Iraq deployment orders.

A few days after Aaron left, a letter from one of his Portland doctors arrived in the mail, warning him that he could suffer a seizure that could put him in a coma from which he would not recover, and that is in fact what happened to my son.

He concealed his medical conditions from his unit as best he could, and he called me to tell me that he had passed the Army medical exam and was going to Fort Carson , Colorado .

But Aaron was held back for at least one of the several serious medical conditions he was suffering from. As near as I can tell, he received no continuing medical treatment after he left my home and reported to his unit.

Two years later, I have no information from anyone about what happened to him medically between leaving my home and suffering the fatal seizure.

Senate Memorial 1, in line 17 page 1, refers to the deaths of 83 military personnel “from Oregon” in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I want to note for the record that this number does not include my son, Aaron Cruz, although he was an Oregon resident at the time he reported for deployment.

The way this war is compartmentalized, if your soldier doesn’t die from gunfire or in an explosion, he or she isn’t a real casualty of the war, and if the soldier is from another state’s National Guard, no one pays much attention to the loss.

Now the President has announced that troops are being rotated back into Iraq again, for deployments extended to 15 months.

We military families are seeing our loved ones exposed to chlorine gas bombs now, and to shaped-charge IEDs that cut right through armor. We are seeing our troops ordered into neighborhoods, as Representative Brian Boquist described, where the streets are too narrow for the tanks and combat support vehicles they need.

The lifetime medical costs to care for some of the brain-injured soldiers returning from battle can run to $ 8 to $ 14 million dollars. Where is that money going to come from?

Will this legislature back its message to Congress with a commitment to provide the funding level that our troops, our veterans and their families need as a consequence of being a “Nation at War.?”

Is—for example—a nickel per gallon gas tax too much to ask of the Nation to help pay for the war, to finance veterans’ services for the small fraction of Americans who are actually fighting it?

I am not here to advocate for any of these Memorials as the one to support.

I believe that they each contain important concepts that merit consideration and debate by the full Senate, and I hope this Committee will decide to move them all to the floor, including HJM9, so that they can have that debate, and then bring them back to this Committee for further action.

Regarding Senate Memorial 1, I would ask the Committee to remove the platitudes from the bill.

For example, on page 1, lines 13 and 14, which read: “Whereas the Oregon Senate and the residents of the State of Oregon recognize, appreciate and are forever thankful for the sacrifices that all of our Oregon and other American troops and their families have made, especially the troops who have given their lives or been wounded to protect our freedoms.”

This expression of gratitude rings especially hollow on a day in which flags are at half-staff to mark the loss of life of another Oregon soldier, but which received no acknowledgement, no remonstrance, on the Senate floor.

A second example is found on page 2, lines 16 and 17, which read: “The Oregon Senate and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces and the Oregon National Guard….”

I have no idea what that means, neither when that support and protection is going to begin, nor what level of commitment the bill refers to.

With that statement, Madame Chair and Members of the Committee, I will stand aside so that others may speak.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

"End the War" sign updated















I went ahead and marked off 2007, even though it's only April.

Waiting until December to close out another year is starting to feel a little too literal.


It's probably not too early to mark off 2008, too.

I just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., four days entirely spent between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and you could never tell we were a "Nation at War", as the saying goes. No sign of a war anywhere but at airport security.

People who aren't making any sacrifice are just as disconnected there in D.C. as they are in Portland and in Salem.

Portland's #1 Predatory Towing Horror Story Continues!

Yes! The horror story continues, and I’m claiming the title. Believe it!

I went out of town for a few days last week, and while I was gone, one of Hacienda CDC’s predatory patrol towing contractors trespassed on my private property and stole my car with a tow truck.

For the fourth time! Believe it!

Hacienda CDC owns the two triplexes behind my house. The towing horror story began two years ago when they hired Retriever Towing to patrol their triplexes.

Retriever Towing trespassed on my property three times to steal vehicles, broke the transmission in my Dodge Caravan, and also towed my rental.

To this day, they (meaning Hacienda CDC, their management company, and Retriever Towing) each claim that the other is responsible, but do not dispute the fact that they trespassed on my property in the dead of night and made an illegal, wrongful tow.

Using a different towing contractor, Sergeant’s Towing, they did it again, committing trespass and theft at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning, April 8.

They demanded $235.00 for the return of my vehicle, which I refused to pay.

Eventually, the next day, Sergeant’s put my Caravan back where it was before this most recent trespassing event took place.

Sergeant’s has sent me two letters of apology.

Meanwhile, Hacienda Community Development’s staff remains silent in their bunker at NE 42nd Avenue and Sumner, where they have absconded with a stretch of public sidewalk—public right of way—to create an illegal, unenforceable towaway zone for their own private parking pleasure (see photos on earlier post).

Last time I spoke to Bertha Ferran, Board member of both Hacienda CDC and the Portland Development Commission, about the wrongful towing they are inflicting on their neighbors, she told me to “Call the police,” if I didn’t like it.

Well, just in case you’re paying attention, Bertha, I definitely called the police this time. You’ll be hearing from them.

And, this time, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer, too.

Believe it!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jim Pepper honored by Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian

Oregon-born Native American musician Jim Pepper (1941-1992) was honored with a series of events at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution culminating with performances by the Jim Pepper Remembrance Band and Yellowhammer.

Among the items donated to the Museum by the family of Jim Pepper was his silver-plated saxophone.

The Museum also featured the award-winning documentary "Pepper's Powwow" in its cinema, two shows a day for several weeks preceding the April 7 concert.

Photographs of the concert and ceremony are being prepared for posting, will be up soon on www.jimpepperhouse.blogspot.com


At the request of the Pepper family, I made the following remarks during the ceremony:

Remarks for the Jim Pepper Dedication
National Museum of the American Indian
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
by Sean Cruz, on behalf of the family of Jim Pepper
April 7, 2007

“You must not forget me when I’m long gone, for I loved you so dearly,” Jim Pepper sang (in his song ‘Remembrance’), and we are gathered here today to proclaim that this unique and remarkable man will indeed never be forgotten.

On behalf of the family of Jim Pepper, Hung-a-che-eda, the Flying Eagle, I am honored and privileged to speak today, and I hope that my words are worthy of the occasion, that they carry honor and respect to all.

Jim Pepper was born in 1941, and he passed from this life in 1992, leaving a legacy of art and personality that bridged cultures and continents.

The gifts with which the Pepper family honors the National Museum of the American Indian today, including the silver saxophone through which Jim spoke his heart, always honoring his Indian heritage, forging new directions in music, preparing the way for future generations of musicians, are emblems of that legacy.

In order to understand the legacy of Jim Pepper, one must first appreciate that Jim’s music originated in the traditions, the language and the culture of Native People, in his absorption of the teachings of his grandfather Ralph Pepper, and of his father Gilbert Pepper and his mother Floy Pepper.

Their influences are at the core of this glorious, transcendental music.

Those teachings inspired Jim throughout his entire life, and we are all the beneficiaries of those lessons.

As a dancer, a singer, a composer, a bandleader, an innovator and as a saxophone player, Jim took those traditional songs, chants, rhythms, sounds—never losing contact with their Native origins, never failing to give honor to his People—and created a new vocabulary of sound and meaning, incorporating American jazz, African and Caribbean rhythms, melody and what he liked to call “sweet har-mo-ny” into a body of work that has yet to be fully appreciated.

The music often categorized as “world music” was to Jim Pepper, simply, “music for the People.”

In 1999, in her acceptance speech on the occasion of her son’s First Americans in the Arts award, Floy Pepper spoke these words:

“Jim Pepper was a member of the Kaw Indian Nation, known as the Wind People, from his father. From me, his mother, he was a member of the Creek Indian Nation, known as the People of the Waters.“It is no wonder his music was so strong and powerful—with the wind to carry his music to the four directions of the earth—and as long as the grass shall grow and the waters flow—which is forever—may his spirit remain alive for time immemorial.”

Assembled here today, from the East, the West, the North and the South, the musicians and singers of the Jim Pepper Remembrance Band and Yellowhammer have come to pay tribute to their musical and spiritual brother, and the tears they shed this afternoon—like the tears that flowed during yesterday’s rehearsal—mark the depth and the breadth of the love they share for this wonderful soul, the man who Muskogee Creek poet Joy Harjo called “The Musician Who Became a Bear”, in her song dedicated to Pepper that is already in the Smithsonian collection.

We do more than remember Jim today; we celebrate him.

In the month that Jim passed, that February of 1992, Caren Knight-Pepper composed a song-poem titled simply, “Jim.”

That poem begins:

“Family Jim
Our son Jim
Brother Jim
Uncle Jim
My Jim
Your Jim
All of ours Jim…”

And the poem concludes:

“B-flat Jim
Alaska Jim
Powwow Jim
Polar Bear Jim
Feather Jim
Gourd rattle Jim
Gentle Jim

“Witchi-Tai-To Jim
Water spirit Jim
Comin’ and Goin’ Jim
Ya-na-ho Jim
Ya-na-ho

“Ya-na-ho”

Jim Pepper, son of the Creek and Kaw Nations, son of Oregon and the United States, son of Gilbert and Floy Pepper, has become a son for the ages.
--Sean Cruz


The family of Jim Pepper donated to the Museum:

[] Jim’s silver-plated Selmer balanced-action saxophone, vintage late 1950s

[] Both of Jim's saxophone cases

[] Beaded ball cap worn by Jim Pepper in concert, with feather attached, “Jim” embroidered

[] Turtle-shell rattle used in concert and the recording studio

[] Original hand-written scores and sheet music, including “Witchi-Tai-To”

[] Original LPs, including Jim Pepper’s 1971 “Pepper’s Powwow”

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Predatory Patrol Towing Bills set to move in Senate Committee

Several bills addressing predatory patrol towing practices in Oregon are about to be scheduled for hearings and work sessions in the Senate Commerce Committee.

Senate Bill 116A is about to be printed as amended. The consensus amendments were the result of the discussions covering every section of the bill by the towing workgroup led by Eva Novick of the Office of the Attorney General.

Attorney General Hardy Myers and the Department of Justice have been working on regulating certain practices in the towing industry for the past two legislative sessions, and now have a bill that should sail through the Capitol.

It is likely that every legislator in the building and/or their staff have a personal bad towing experience to identify with, and they are certainly hearing from their constituents.

These may be the most popular bills in the building.

The fact that complaints about patrol towing incidents have come in from so many credible sources, describing thuglike behavior by patrol tow drivers, of being stranded or forced to go to an unsafe place, of getting the hardball treatment from surly patrol tow employees at every level, of outrageous fees more like ransom, and of wasting valuable police and court time at the public expense, that the picture is very clearly drawn.

The fact is that patrol towing is already illegal in many other states, including California and Washington, purely on the issue of safety, and the proponents of patrol towing will have to face these realities should they decide to argue against the legislation in a public hearing.

For example, a young woman who was forced to stand alone under the I-405 freeway at 2:00 in the morning, waiting 30 minutes for the Retriever Towing employee to show up and release her vehicle, which had been wrongfully towed, is looking forward to discussing the issue of safety before the Committee.

She usually appears before House and Senate committees to testify on behalf of the organizations she represents as a lobbyist, but this time it’s personal.

Another witness will be the young woman, a domestic violence caseworker making a home visit to a client at Hacienda CDCs Villa de Clara Vista apartments, who parked in a visitor space and was nevertheless towed within minutes clear across town.

The Retriever yard employee (at the same tow yard under the I-405 freeway) told her she wasn’t allowed to park in the visitor’s section because she was working, not visiting, and shook her down for $230.00.

To their credit, most towing companies do not do patrol towing, and they choose not to do it on principle. Many towers resent being tarred with the same brush as the patrol towers, understandably so, and those feelings have been transferred into the legislation, resulting in the consensus language of Senate Bill 116A.

Representatives of towing companies, insurers, property owners, AAA, and the offices of Senators Avel Gordly and Ryan Deckert, representing their constituents, participated in the SB116 towing workgroup.

In addition to SB116, Senator Gordly and Senator Deckert are working on legislation addressing patrol towing issues jointly, with six bills between them.

Their staff are currently working with Legislative Counsel to combine the bills into one or two vehicles, which will be heard in the Senate Commerce Committee before the April 30 deadline for Senate bills.

If you haven’t already sent in your predatory patrol towing horror story, now is the time to do it. Send it to your state Senator and Representative, and copy to the Members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

All legislator contact information and committee agendas are available online at www.leg.state.or.us

Make your voices heard.