U.S. military families, along with veterans, undertook an unprecedented mission this week. They traveled to Iraq as part of a seven-day tour of duty for peace.

Unlike President Bush who spent two hours on Thanksgiving Day for a re-election campaign photo opportunity, these families – with children or husbands serving in Iraq – will meet with U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians, human and women’s rights organizations as well as the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S. occupation’s Coalition Provisional Authority.

“Our mission is not photo ops,”

Fernando Suarez del Solar, from Escondido, Calif., said. Suarez del Solar’s son, Jesus, was a Marine who died in combat in Iraq. “Our mission is talking to ordinary Iraqis and U.S. troops, figuring out why things have gone so terribly wrong and what we can do to stop the violence and bring the troops home,” he said.

Michael McPhearson, another delegate who is a Gulf War veteran and has a son serving in the military said, “The only agenda of our delegation is to uncover the truth.”

Before their departure, the Bush administration told the group of ten military family members and veterans that their safety could not be guaranteed. The military has denied them entry to military bases, but the group plans to meet with their children and husbands.

The International Occupation Watch Center (IOWC) and Global Exchange are sponsoring the trip. The delegation includes members of Military Families Speak Out, a peace group of over 1,000 military families. IOWC was initiated by a coalition of peace groups, including the U.S.-based United for Peace and Justice.

Upon their return on Dec. 8, the group hopes to meet with representatives of the Bush administration and United Nations as well as the 25 members of Congress who wrote letters of support for their delegation.

Delegation member Annabelle Valencia, a bilingual teaching assistant at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Ariz., has two children serving in Iraq. Both Valencia and her husband, Jesus, supported the war when it began, but began to have doubts as the Bush administration’s rationales unraveled.

Before leaving home she told the Arizona Daily Star, “I know it is very risky to go to Iraq right now, but I feel compelled to go there. I want to see my son and daughter and talk to the other troops. I want to talk to the Iraqi people, especially the women,” said Valencia. “And I want to talk to the U.S. authorities there and ask them when they are going to send our troops home and allow the Iraqis to run their own country.”

Bringing a message of peace is one of the missions, but getting firsthand knowledge and bringing their experiences home to influence public opinion to end the occupation is another.

Another member of the delegation, Mike Lopercio, a restaurant owner in Tempe, Ariz., plans on meeting his son, Anthony, a private in the Army serving somewhere near Fallujah. He told reporters, “One of the things that confuses me is that, when I grew up, the Vietnam War was in full swing and everyone was eyeing it with a lot of skepticism. With this war, if anything, there is disinterest. We’re focused on Jacko, Kobe Bryant. If this trip helps refocus our attention where it ought to be, even just a little bit, the trip will be a success. Because what we’re doing in Iraq could have dire consequences for generations.”

Delegation head Suarez del Solar is bringing thousands of letters of peace from children in the United States to the children of Iraq, as well as medical supplies for hospitals. “The regular Americans like peace,” he said, “The enemy is not the people from America.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org.

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