Military Veterans Welcome Refugees

By Colin Raunig


On Saturday, February 4th I stood in solidarity with more than 9,000 other people at the  “Protect Our Muslim Neighbors” rally in Denver. I was emboldened by the numbers of in attendance and by the words of those who took the pulpit. One such person was an Air Force Officer veteran who spoke near the end of the event.

He took his oath of office on 9/11/2009, “an oath to protect all Americas.” He was also quick to note that he was whiter than many people in attendance that day, whiter than Trump, even, which earned him a hearty laugh from the crowd. And he was open about his political leanings as a moderate Conservative. He admitted that he would disagree with many members of the crowd on most partisan issues. But not this one. This one he could not tolerate. On this one he had to take a stand.

As a fellow veteran—I was a Naval Officer for eight years—I was inspired by his words and by his courage to stand against a policy with which he disagreed even though he is a Republican. I am a Democrat, but I believe this executive order is not a partisan issue. I know other military veterans in Colorado who feel the same way—but they’re Democrats, too. And though it’s nice to find like-minded veterans, I had yet to hear a veteran and Republican agree with me that this travel ban is a human issue, not a political one. Then I heard this Air Force veteran speak. I know there are others like him.

The refugee travel ban ensures the demise of the Special Immigrant Visa program, shutting the doors to the thousands of foreign interpreters and allies who have served alongside our troops since 2001. And while technically not a “Muslim Ban,” that’s what it amounts to.

This isn’t what I fought for. I fought for tolerance, not hate. I fought for dignity, not disrespect. I fought for vigilance, not persecution. I fought for American citizens. I fought for peace in the world. I fought for the ideal that my country is a shining example of what other countries might be, and a welcoming shelter for those who must flee their homes.

True, I have never served in harm’s way, not even close—but I have served with those who have, and my service gave me the experience and insight necessary to separate true American values from false ones. At the rally on Saturday, I saw nothing but the truth.

The truth is that this ban needs to be repealed. The truth is that nothing less will be acceptable.

There are those who would want to distract from that fact, discrediting all demonstrators as petulant Hillary apologists—snowflakes—or as vessels serving an anti-Trump agenda. There is some truth to that, but only some. You can be pro-Trump and against this ban. If you voted for him, that gives you the right to stand up against him. Now is that time. This is that policy to protest. Don’t let false narratives distract from the issue at hand.

The violence at the protest in Berkeley, for example, was inexcusable. It is also the exception to the civil steps being taken by American citizens to stand united against this policy. And don’t mistake the actions of the veterans today with those of a generation ago. This isn’t Vietnam. I didn’t leave active duty with a grudge to bear and a bone to pick against my country. I left because I wanted to serve my country in a different capacity. I stand united with the veterans and citizens who believe this ban must go.

One speaker at the rally I attended quoted Martin Luther King Jr. when she said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Those words embodied the mood and message of the rally on Saturday. It was peaceful. It was respectful. But peace is not to be mistaken for passivity. Indeed, the only way to institute positive change is action. The rally was the first step in that direction.

We are not snowflakes. We are soldiers. We will stand peacefully for what we believe in.

Several veterans and I have requested a meeting with Senator Gardner when he returns to Colorado during the upcoming Senate Recess. We seek to engage him in a conversation about the SIV program, about our national security, and about our moral standing in the world. We hope that he agrees to meet with us.

To the veterans who don’t agree with us: I have no quarrel with you. To the many veterans who agree this ban needs to be repealed: be heard. We attended the rally in Denver and rallies across the nation. We live in in every town in every state in the country. We continue to serve our country by upholding the values we learned during our military service. And we must not be silent.

Colin Raunig graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2007 and was a Naval Officer for eight years. He is currently a MFA student of fiction at Colorado State University.