This story was written by Aaron Hedge, Rocky Mountain Collegian
When Ben Schrader saw Barack Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 through a TV set in a small village in Germany, he told himself Obama should be the man running for president.
Just months before, in April 2004 -- which he calls "the month of blood" -- he had been shipped from a U.S. Army base in Baquba, Iraq, where some of the most violent sectarian activity in the country happened.
The now senior sociology major at Colorado State University, who was formerly a staunch Republican in support of the war, lost his feelings of support for the controversial initiative after seeing death from the intense mortar attacks and suicide bombings that plagued the area.
He was not convinced that the effort was working to fix the religiously dichotomized culture that has divided the population for centuries, so he threw his support behind Obama, who was, at the time, one of the only national political figures who opposed the war.
"There's no military cure what's going on in Iraq," Schrader said adding that U.S. military resources are floundering as the majority of its focus is in the wrong places, and are insufficient to fix Iraqi culture. "We don't have the military capability to do that. I mean we're spread so thin right now."
And now, Schrader is preparing to be at the forefront of activism that is critical of the war, working with the Iraq Veterans Against the War to put pressure on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. The IVAW hopes to convince Obama to keep his promise of withdrawal from Iraq should he win the presidency.
Obama's proposed withdrawal from the country is one of his biggest campaign platform items, often highlighting his speeches.
Schrader said Obama has the ability to unite the Democratic Party and the country if he is elected, in addition to bringing the American image back into favor with other countries. But the IVAW isn't taking any chances on Obama's word. They intend to hold him to it.
"Once he's president, I'm gonna be his biggest critic," Schrader said.
But the biggest criticism from the Republican Party that plagues those yearning for withdrawal is that the military effort is working. After the controversial troop surge that President George Bush dictated in spring 2007, sectarian violence in the country has fallen by leaps and bounds.
But Schrader said the significant decrease in religious strife doesn't necessarily result from the increase in military presence. And, he said, the affect on the troops is all the more reason to pull out, alluding to adverse psychological conditions he took on from experiencing combat.
"It's not American going in there and not knowing the problem," he said. "When I first got out, all I did was drink for a long time."
But Schrader and his IVAW teammates will not have an easy task in Denver come August 25. The goal is to raise enough money to bring at least 100 members from around the country to the Democratic National Convention -- many of whom don't have a place to stay because hotels have been booked out for months.
Originally, the IVAW had planned to partner with Tent State University, which is organizing operations in Denver's City Park, including protests, concerts and lodging -- in tents. But Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has banned camping in the park during the DNC, possibly throwing a wrench in the group's plan. The camping would have put hundreds of tents on the park's grass, and Denver's police services will be stretched to the limit simply with convention activity.