San Francisco radio-talk-show host Melanie Morgan (KSFO 560 AM) is co-author of American Mourning: A Story of Two Families with Catherine Moy. She is also president of Move America Forward . She recently talked to NRO editor Kathryn Lopez about the book and her troop-supporting work.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What exactly is Move America Forward?
Melanie Morgan: Move America Forward (MAF) is a nonprofit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to supporting the heroic men and women of the United States military and their missions in the war on terrorism. It is the largest grassroots pro-troop organization in the nation.
MAF was formed in May 2004 by Howard Kaloogian (R., Calif., 1994-2000) and me.
The organization has sponsored two trips to Iraq to support our troops and speak with military leaders as well as the Iraqi people about the progress being made in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our first trip was coordinated with the military through Lt. Col Buzz Patterson and included a group of conservative talk-show hosts who broadcast live interviews with the troops to the American people.
MAF has shipped over 18 tons of coffee, cookies, beef jerky, and Gatorade to our troops over the past two years. Each package is sponsored by an American citizen and contains a personalized message of support written by that individual.
The organization emerged as the leading pro-troop voice to stand up to the anti-military and “Blame America First” rhetoric and conduct of filmmaker Michael Moore and antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. We’ve organized pro-troop rallies and events all across the nation.
Howard Kaloogian and I have done several hundred television and radio interviews with the media representing the pro-troop viewpoint.
Lopez: How did you wind up forming Move America Forward and getting involved in supporting the war effort?
Morgan: Move America Forward was formed to provide an outlet to respond to the poor (and often biased) coverage of the war effort by journalists from the United States and other nations.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal had broken and the media was engaged in a feeding frenzy, criticizing our troops with a broad brush that implied many of our military men and women were undisciplined and unethical.
Many pro-troop supporters were on the defensive and there was a sense of despair and depression in some camps.
Meanwhile, Master Sergeant John Ubaldi — one of our staffers who was serving first in Afghanistan and then later in Iraq — was reporting to us that the war he was seeing on the ground was different than what the media was reporting to the American public.
So we decided to act, by activating the grassroots network that Howard Kaloogian and I had built up in our previous conservative efforts, and putting these people to work as volunteers in the pro-troop movement.
Move America Forward was born.
Howard Kaloogian and I first began working together during the Recall Gray Davis movement in California. Howard became the chairman of the Recall Gray Davis Committee after I launched the recall movement on my morning radio show. While some people dubbed me the “Mother of the Recall,” it was the hard work of thousands upon thousands of everyday Californians who made it possible.
Since then we have fought the liberal news media’s attack on President Ronald Reagan’s legacy via the Defend Reagan Committee , and stood up to disgraced former President Jimmy Carter and his efforts to undermine American foreign policy in North Korea and the Middle East via the “Censure Jimmy Carter ” campaign.
Lopez: Last week you sent over 4,400 pounds of coffee, cookies, Gatorade, and beef jerky to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is that a Christmas tradition by now?
Morgan: The program began in September 2004. Move America Forward was conducting “Believe in Freedom” rallies around the nation to commemorate the September 11th attacks against the United States.
We had been hearing from the troops that they were very dissatisfied with the quality of the coffee that was available to most personnel stationed in Iraq. They asked us if we could help send over some premium-quality ground coffee.
We decided to test out what kind of response we’d get from the public. At one of our 9/11 pro-troop rallies we had a small booth that allowed people to sponsor a bag of coffee to send to the troops. The people wrote their name and address along with a personalized note that was included with each bag of coffee that was sent.
The response was phenomenal, and it wasn’t long before we were sending cookies to the troops too. Given the heat of the summer months in Iraq and Afghanistan we needed to respond to the request from our troops to send over Gatorade that they could mix with water they carried with them on their missions or on patrol. So, we next added Gatorade and beef jerky to the program. To date we have shipped over 18 tons of coffee, cookies, beef jerky, and Gatorade.
The program is growing exponentially. Last week alone we shipped over two tons to the troops.
Lopez: What kind of reaction to get from the troops when you play Santa?
Morgan: It’s extremely gratifying to receive the “thank you” messages from our troops. Sometimes they write to us at Move America Forward and sometimes they write to the Americans who sponsor the packages.
We’ve received thousands upon thousands of thank-you notes. Here are just a handful of messages taken from the top of our mail inbox. I’ve made no efforts to specially select messages; these are just the top several notes in the stack. Read these messages — they are the unfiltered words of the men and women who are serving on the front lines in the war on terror. Each day we receive a giant stack of thank-you notes just like these:
‐ “We wanted to send a thank you note for the Gatorade & beef jerky. The soldiers went crazy over the beef jerky. It is nice to have support from back home, especially around the holidays. God Bless America, Amy Wilson”
‐ “Thank you very much for the Gatorade and Beef Jerky that you sent. I shared the items that you sent with some of the soldiers in my unit, so they might send responses of thanks too. I received the package containing the items you sent on the 10th of November, which is about ten days after the date you sent it from California, according to the Customs Declaration and Dispatch note. You must know that I had the biggest smile on my face when I noticed that you and several of the other participants were from California… I am from Vallejo and my uncle lives in Sacramento too. I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season and know that your ability to send a package of cheer was and is greatly appreciated. SFC Craig A. Webb”
‐ “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your care package that I received from Operation Move America Forward. Packages such as these are significant morale boosters and appreciated by all who will benefit from the contents of this package. I would like to extend my gratitude from me and my unit for your support while we are deployed. Thank you!!! Sincerely, Spc. Crystal Simms”
‐ “Thank you so much for the generous care package. I shared it with my fellow soldiers who were all very appreciative. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts & prayers. Thank you for your patriotism. Monique McCoy U.S. Army”
‐ “Just wanted to take the time out to personally thank you for the goodies that you sent in the care package. The cookies, beef jerky and Gatorade was shared with everyone in my office. Please know that we appreciate what your group is doing for the soldiers over here in Iraq. Thank you a million times and God Bless you and your families. Have a great Turkey Day! SFC Mickens.”
‐ “Hello, my name is Joy Haulcy and I am an active duty U.S. Army soldier currently deployed in Kirkuk, Iraq. I received your care package today and I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness. I know U.S. sentiment towards the war right now isn’t very positive, so it’s good to know that the real Americans such as yourself do appreciate the sacrifices we are making right now. Thank you so much & may God continue to bless you & your family. Love, Joy.”
‐ “Thank you so much for the coffee and snacks. They were great and we are still enjoying the coffee. You don’t realize what you miss until you are over here and can’t get anything. We are in Ramadi, Iraq…. We fix all the trucks for our company. Our mission is to support the engineers and Marines who are clearing IEDs from the routes we travel. Thank you so much for your package. It was greatly appreciated. Sincerely, HHCTF321ENBN Maintenance”
During our recent trip to Iraq, some of the soldiers told our Gold Star family members how much they loved getting the gourmet coffee and hoped more would be coming. They also explained how much the personal notes that are included mean to them and how they are read and reread by the troops as a morale booster.
Lopez: You spend a lot of time with Gold Star Families. Tell us what they’re telling you.
Morgan: They tell us that they are so very proud of the service and sacrifice their children made to this nation for the cause of freedom.
They tell us that America cannot give up and surrender in the war on terrorism, that such a move would be devastating to this nation’s national security, and it would also dishonor the efforts of those who have given their lives in the war on terrorism.
The family members we speak with make it clear that Cindy Sheehan is not representative of most Gold Star Families.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a spectrum of different opinions by these family members, but the overwhelming majority recognize that it is the Islamic terrorist groups and their allies that are the bad guys — not the United States and Israel (which increasingly is the message that Cindy Sheehan is telling the world).
The Gold Star Family members also have a strong and special bond with the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. They consider our troops over there to be part of their extended families. From the reaction these Gold Star Families got from the U.S. troops they met in Iraq, I can you tell you that the feeling was mutual.
Lopez: What is a “Brighter Future for Iraq,” and whose idea was it? What struck you as most disturbing during your recent trip to Iraq? Most surprising?
Morgan: The “Iraq Survey Group Report: A Brighter Future for Iraq” was a report by Move America Forward and Gold Star Families on Iraq and its future. The idea came about as a group concept we hashed out during an internal meeting. The report by the group was written to preempt the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s report. We were motivated to get our own report out there because of concerns we had surrounding the bias of the Baker-Hamilton panel to seek international consensus instead of victory in Iraq.
Move America Forward has now organized two trips to Iraq. The first trip was tricky. It would not have come about without the help of Lt. Colonel “Buzz” Patterson, who used his extensive contacts with the military (including his father, a retired general) to bring about the “The Voices of Soldiers Truth Tour.” There was a contingent of talk-show hosts and documentary filmmakers who wanted to bring about the actual words of troops on the ground to the American people, via live broadcasts, without the mainstream-media filter.
The second trip was even harder, because we were determined to bring the Gold Star Family members to Iraq (parents who have lost their children in the war).
The problem was, not everyone in the U.S. government wanted that to happen. CENTCOM, the Department of Defense, the White House — everyone told us “No.” You can understand how we are losing the public-relations war over the mission in Iraq when you see how hard some misguided people work to keep positive and uplifting developments from taking place.
We figured out a way around the bureaucracy, and the historic trip became a milestone for the families who went. Never before had a delegation of Gold Star Families traveled to Iraq to see the land where their children had sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom. Closure is a meaningless word — but for these families, many came home with a sense of what their children did before they died, and that gave the parents some deeper understanding of their sons’ sacrifice.
During our two trips to Iraq we were determined to listen to what people in Iraq felt and had to say. We spoke with our troops on the ground, military leaders, leaders in the Iraqi government and everyday Iraqi citizens.
We saw the torture chambers and prisons of Saddam Hussein.
We talked with the men who formerly worked side-by-side with those who trained terrorists (over 4,000 terrorists trained under Saddam Hussein’s regime) and developed weapons of mass destruction…
All of the authors [of our report] have traveled to Iraq outside of the Green Zone — whereas the Iraq Study Group only traveled within the Green Zone — on one trip only. And unlike the Iraq Study Group, we did not ignore the incredible accomplishments being made by the people of the three most northern provinces in Iraq — Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurds of northern Iraq have built a peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-free market society in northern Iraq that is the model for the rest of the nation. But the Iraq Study Group ignored this success story and ignored the outreach made by the Iraqi Kurds to the panel.
We will be returning to Iraq with a larger contingent of Gold Star Families in 2007, and are working out approval for such a trip with the department of Defense.
Lopez: In American Mourning you tell the stories of heroes but you also hit Cindy Sheehan a bit. Is the latter necessary?
Morgan: I am extremely proud of our book. American Mourning tells the full, unadulterated story behind how American military families have reacted to losing a child in the war against terrorism. My co-author, Catherine Moy, and myself researched the book for almost two years. We were determined to get the story right.
That meant telling the good, the bad, and the ugly. We were not going to paint the story in our own way to reflect what we wanted people to know — we were going to tell them the full story, and that meant telling things about both the Sheehans and the Johnsons that were not always flattering. The book isn’t a hit piece on Cindy Sheehan, nor is it a fluffy, glossy account about the Johnsons.
As Catherine Moy, my co-author says, “the truth isn’t conservative or liberal. It’s just the truth. Some people can’t handle that.”
We relate facts and accounts that allow the American public to gain a greater connection to our troops, why they fight, and what their families went through as their children made the ultimate sacrifice to our nation.
The honesty of the book allows the reader to get the full picture, and gain a greater understanding for what compelled the families to act in the way they did.
Lopez: Who is Jan Johnson?
Morgan: As I mentioned above, most Gold Star Family members make it clear that Cindy Sheehan does not speak for them. During our recent trip to Iraq we brought with us Joe and Jan Johnson whose son, Justin, died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Jan Johnson is Justin’s mother — a woman who has descended into the depths of hell and survived, with the help of her deep faith in God.
The story of the Johnsons and their son Justin is remarkable. Not only was Justin a patriot who gave his life for our nation, he was also one of Casey Sheehan’s closest friends — yes, Casey Sheehan, the son of antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan.
Casey and Justin trained together in Fort Hood, Texas. They were shipped off together to Iraq. They would both die in Sadr City within six days of one another fighting the same uprising in the slums of Baghdad.
When Casey first died, Justin went online and wrote a message of condolence at Casey’s memorial website. Those words were among the last ever written by Justin Johnson as he then went off to fight and die in that chaotic and hellish slum that was Sadr City.
Joe and Jan Johnson were devastated by the death of their son. I call Jan Johnson “the one left behind.” While Joe was off fighting terrorists, Jan was fighting depression and the physical problems associated with it. As a mother myself, I think of her as the heroine in our story. Pat Sheehan, too. Joe and Jan handled their grief in different ways. Joe Johnson went over to Iraq to avenge the death of his son. He left filled with rage, but after seeing the people of Iraq — especially the Iraqi children — he realized that while the terrorists are our enemy, that their was hope for the people of Iraq to build a free and peaceful nation and his respect for the people grew dramatically.
Jan stayed home and kept the family together, while wondering if the same terrorists who killed her son would kill her husband, and frightened that her oldest son Joshua (also in the military) would be next.
Their recent trip to Iraq convinced the Johnsons that the people of Iraq want a peaceful and democratic country that will be a friend of the United States in the Middle East.
Lopez: How can NRO readers help Move America Forward? Why should they?
Morgan: Move America Forward is committed to the men and women of the United States military and the missions they are serving in the war on terrorism.
This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s an American issue. Some Republicans will betray the cause at times; some Democrats will stand strongly behind the missions of our troops. But in each case the political parties and their leadership will be motivated by political concerns of self-advancement and self-preservation.
At Move America Forward we are interested solely in supporting the cause — and we won’t waver from that, nor will we back down from our stated goals because of political pressure.
We are confident that history will clearly show that those who stood on the side of freedom and liberty and against tyranny and terrorism will have been just in their actions.
Islamic jihadists really do want to kill all Americans. Not some of us. Not just in the Middle East. They want to wipe off the map the populations of the United States, Israel, Europe and our allies. They consider us to be infidels, and in the pursuit of their twisted and violent interpretation of Islam they believe they are not only justified in their efforts — they believe they are commanded to act.
If we do not take action to eradicate the growing terrorist threat in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, then we condemn our children to a future filled with unimaginable violence, bloodshed and fear. It is naïve for some to think that appeasement will work: it never does. If we do not defeat terrorism now, we will be fighting it in on our shores before very long.
President George W. Bush is right in following the vision of Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” serving as a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world. Free nations don’t harbor terrorists or start wars. It is in our strategic interest to promote freedom around the world and defeat those who are determined to destroy us.
So the fight against terrorism is noble and necessary. And our troops deserve our unflinching support for their bravery and heroism.
That should be all the motivation the public needs to support us at Move America Forward. If you believe in our cause and know that we must not flag or fail, then please sign up at our website — www.MoveAmericaForward.org — and make a contribution to our organization (it’s tax deductible), or send a care package of coffee and cookies to our troops.
We need the help and support of every American we can enlist in the effort to support our troops and their missions, because there are an awful lot of naïve and misguided people doing everything they can to undermine the mission of our troops and to bring them home in defeat.
There is a sense now that because Democrats regained control of Congress that it is inevitable that our troops will be forced to retreat in surrender before their job is done…
We want our men and women home, too, as soon as possible. But we don’t want American forces to leave Iraq to murderous thugs who will undo all the work that our fighting forces began, and allowing Iraq and the entire region to descend into chaos. For Americans, that is not now, nor ever should be, an option, and Move America Forward will use every means available to us to ensure that the war on terrorism is not lost to those who lack the resolve to see victory for the forces of freedom.