Reba Hawkins, former executive director of the Govanstowne Business Association in Baltimore, is currently a candidate for Baltimore City Council. She delivered this speech at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, March 19, during a speak-out sponsored by Baltimore United for Peace and Justice on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war.

She spoke just after the Baltimore City Council adopted a resolution, unanimously, calling on Congress to “limit funding for the Iraq war to money needed to bring the troops home safely” and provide health and education benefits for them, and for reconstruction in Iraq and here at home.

I live in the 43rd Legislative District and the 4th Councilmanic District in Baltimore City. I greet you as a concerned citizen and supporter of the resolution to bring our troops home, and I speak to you as a former caretaker of my sons’ father who served our country in Desert Storm and ended up on permanent disability at the age of 31, from being exposed to chemicals that affected his lungs.

According to The Associated Press, during the last four years America’s cost for the war in Iraq has reached nearly $500 billion. That’s more than the total cost for the Korean War and nearly as much as 12 years in Vietnam. The ultimate cost could reach $1 trillion or more, but out of those dollars allocated, do we know what percentage of the current budget is going to be used to fund postwar efforts? It doesn’t look like the Pentagon and current administration prepared a budget or plan that will aid our soldiers who are surviving the war and returning home with high-level injuries.

Under the current administration, the war funding for both Iraq and Afghanistan has come in the form of supplemental appropriations outside the normal federal budget process. Typically these “supplementals” are used to pay for unexpected emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina, but we don’t have to go that far from home. Baltimore has provided $512.4 million in aid to the war, yet Baltimore City’s body count is steadily on the rise. Baltimore’s streets, citizens and children are crying out. Let’s end the wars here at home by funding programs that offer solutions to eliminate these problems.

Cuts have been made locally in the Medicaid program. Baltimore City schools are closing down, the funding was cut and the state is still not meeting its constitutional responsibility to provide all students with a thorough and efficient education. The evening adult continuing education programs were also cut. The apprenticeship programs that are still in existence, which could help the high dropout percentages, can’t get qualified participants enrolled because their comprehension of reading and math is barely on a fifth-grade level. We are seeing an increase in drug addiction, not because it’s glamorized by numerous celebrities saying “they are going into rehab,” but because some of our citizens are turning to drugs as a means to self-medicate their feelings of no hope and despair.

Most importantly, our soldiers are giving their minds, limbs and lives to protect and honor our country, yet the biggest injustice is the fact that our soldiers can’t get proper health care here at home and proper equipment in Iraq. Our military families are separating due to the mental breakdown of troops unable to get the support needed to acclimate back into society. Our soldiers are being hit with a double-edged sword. They are stuck in Iraq, and they are being stabbed by the bureaucracy here at home. There is more injustice on our U.S. soil than in the countries we claim we are protecting to uphold world peace and democracy.

I am pleading with you to know what your legislatures are doing on your behalf. They have an open door policy. Go to City Hall, go to Annapolis, go to our nation’s capital. I know a lot of this is repetitious, but this is what’s needed to end this war. Let’s do what’s needed to bring our troops home and put the dollars back into the city of Baltimore and our great country we call America.