Who? ... What? ... How?
That is kind of how people reacted when they saw Linda Richards and Maj. Travis Lee present their project for a master's degree.
Lee was attired in his National Guard uniform and Richards wore her Women in Black livery. Women in Black is an international network of women who stand publicly in silent vigil as a reminder of those who have been lost, tortured, raped, disappeared or otherwise destroyed as a result of war. It is a reminder of women everywhere who want war &
anytime, anywhere &
Lee is a National Guardsman assigned to Southern Oregon University as a professor of military science. Richards and Lee found themselves together in the same Master of Management program. One day, when Lee happened to show up to class in uniform, Richards approached him to establish neutral ground to alleviate any discomfort that might arise from their opposing points.
"It's like Mutt and Jeff," said Lee, referring to the partnership he and Richards eventually formed. "She's a big-time peace activist. She's been counter-recruiting in the Rogue Valley (for years) against recruiting.
"She and I &
I don't know how or why &
we just clicked. We just wanted the same things."
Those "same things" include getting information to military veterans about what benefits they are entitled to and how to get them. Several things worked in tandem to spur Lee. He discovered he had students who were not using their vet benefits because they didn't know how to and he'd work them through it. He also discovered there was no centralized place on campus where vets could access information.
"You had eight people on campus in the mix who'd each have a piece of information, but didn't know what the other pieces were and didn't even know who the other people were who had the other pieces," Lee said. "Linda and I chased around to find out who those people were."
There was also a summons to the office of former university Provost Earl Potter III, a retired coast guard captain, who said, partly in jest, "What are you doing to take care of my vets?"
At a certain point, Lee and Richards realized they had a common cause and were equally passionate about it. That's when they dumped their separate capstone projects and teamed up. A capstone differs from a thesis in that it is applied research, meaning it is research applied to solving a specific practical problem.
Richards had to ask him if he was sure he knew who she was and what she did, and if he really wanted to do this project with her. They'd been at various meetings where they kept looking at each other, and she was at a summit in Arizona when he finally called and said, "Linda, I think we need to do this."
Richards is not only a peace activist &
she is also an antinuclear, antibioweapons and antispace weaponization activist. She's often incredulous how little people know about these issues, particularly about weapons in space &
a situation that has even caused astronauts concern because there's about 4 million tons of debris already orbiting in space.
When Richards was 9, she wrote then President Nixon and asked him to send her father home for her birthday. Instead the June 1972 issue of Life magazine arrived at her home bearing the infamous photo of an anguished Kim Phuc, a little girl on fire with napalm, running naked down a Vietnamese village road.
"When I saw that picture, I knew I had to work to stop war," said Richards, who also works as a Jackson County court mediator.
Once Richards and Lee compiled all their data and presented it to university officials, they quickly got behind the idea of putting together a one-stop shop for veterans on campus.
"From a purely business standpoint, this could impact universities in a major way with all the money veterans have already earned that could be funneled into university (tuition)," Lee said.
There's more than just the educational aspects, there's health care. And people might think it's easy to tap into those benefits, but especially coming out of a traumatic situation, it's not, Richards said. Add to that the bureaucratic maze that makes it all that much tougher, some vets just give up.
"From Travis' and my perspective, we don't want to lose even one veteran," Richards said. "I support the troops &
not just say so," she added, referring to the number of people who falsely accuse anti-war proponents of being nonsupportive of troops.
"There's four exit questions (when you get out of the military) &
it's a running joke &
and everyone knows to say no to them," Richards said. And once they're out and there's no one to help them, the number of suicides escalates, particularly as post-traumatic stress disorder sets in.
Professional recognition of stress disorder has grown over the last several decades, but it is not new. After the Civil War, it was called "Soldier's Heart." People recognized that some soldiers had changed when they returned home, but they didn't know how to identify it.
Lee and Richards' one-stop project may bear fruit beyond Southern Oregon. An attendee at one of their resource meetings hopes to galvanize the Legislature to mandate that every Oregon campus put in place a similar centralized station with an outreach coordinator who would aggressively reach out to vets.
Lee believes in service and is grateful to the National Guard for the training and leadership opportunities it provided for him.
"I swore an oath as a National Guardsman to support the constitution, and I'm charged to defend the constitution irregardless of who the commander-in-chief is or what I or anyone else may think about him," he said. "Once Linda and I talked about the constitution, we reached a common ground, and I'm glad we did."
As for post-graduation plans, Richards, who was awarded an Oregon Laurels Scholarship, plans to go on to Oregon State University, where she will study the Linus Pauling Papers and the Atomic Energy Collection, and works toward a doctorate.
"I haven't started in with all the anxiety yet about what I'm going to do now," said Lee, who will be a "regular guy" for a while. He will remain involved with veteran's issues and he will remain in the National Guard despite Richards' best efforts to counter-recruit him.
War and Peace neutralized