Protesters of port vow to stop cargo’s Fort Lewis return

Activists opposed to the war in Iraq said Monday they will not allow military cargo being unloaded at the Port of Olympia to return to Fort Lewis.

How big is that ship?

Photos: Military Ship arrives at Port of Olympia

The 950-foot USNS Brittin docked Monday afternoon at the Port of Olympia, and longshoremen began unloading equipment used by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) during its 15 months in Iraq.

Activists were alerted to the ship's arrival late last week.

The Olympia Port Militarization Resistance campaign first announced in a news release Sunday that it did not plan to block the equipment from leaving the port.

Instead, the campaign said, it would use the occasion "to increase public awareness of the cost of the war and how the port is being used to support it."

Evolving message

That message changed abruptly Monday evening, hours after the ship's arrival, when the group endorsed what it called a strategy of "containment," or preventing the equipment from leaving the port.

Andrew Yankey, a member of Port Militarization Resistance, said the shift was a result of continued discussions and votes taken by group members.

"As long as the war in Iraq is going on, it's all part of the revolving door," he explained.

"They're just shipping it in so they can ship it back out," leading to more deaths of U.S. service members and Iraqi citizens.

The change raises the specter of confrontations between protesters and authorities such as those that occurred when the brigade's equipment was being loaded onto a military ship bound for Iraq in late May 2006.

Nearly 40 people were arrested during that 10-day period.

Port and protesters

Last week, Port Commission President Paul Telford contacted Olympia City Councilman TJ Johnson and Larry Mosqueda, a professor at The Evergreen State College, both involved in South Sound's peace community, to tell them of the ship's arrival and to work with them to keep the demonstrations trouble-free.

He reiterated that message Monday.

"While we know that there are strong feelings in our community about the war in Iraq, we hope any demonstrations while the vessel or cargo are at the port will continue the spirit of the homecoming (of the brigade's soldiers) and be peaceful," he said in a news release.

"What we're trying to do is avoid any provocation whatsoever here," he said during a follow-up interview. "That doesn't do anybody any good."

The port has hired a private security firm, partly because it couldn't come to an agreement with the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, to secure port property, he said.

South Sound law enforcement agencies will be called upon if the demonstrations get out of hand, Telford said.

The Brittin is the 13th military vessel to dock at the port since 2004. It's not known how long it will remain at the port.

"It'll be here at least 24 hours," said Heidi Secrest, a spokesman for the Army transportation battalion in Seattle that is responsible for the shipment.

"How long she's here I can't tell you."

The port commission has consistently affirmed its support for the port accepting military shipments, much to the ire of activists who says the publicly funded agency is contributing to an illegal war that has killed thousands of U.S. service members and Iraqi citizens.

They reiterated that stance Monday.

A group of The Evergreen State College students conducted a "die-in" on campus — with a dozen students lying motionless on Red Square and later inside a computer lab — in remembrance of the 48 soldiers assigned to the brigade who were killed in Iraq as well as the Iraqi casualties.

60 protesters

Late in the afternoon, about 60 protesters assembled on the Fourth Avenue bridge, holding signs that read "Not In Our Port" and "Bring 'Em All Home" in clear view of the massive ship.

"It's just a reminder that American soldiers are dying and Iraqi citizens are dying," said Malia Mildrexler, 18, a student at The Evergreen State College.

"We want to bring our troops home. We don't want to send them more guns."

In March, the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance joined forces with a group in Tacoma to protest the loading of military cargo at the Port of Tacoma, leading to more arrests. The equipment belonged to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), which is scheduled to return to Fort Lewis from Iraq next summer.

May protest in Aberdeen

In May, area activists also were on hand when the 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Air Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Lewis shipped its helicopters and other equipment to the Middle East from the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.

Seventeen people from last year's protest faced charges of second-degree trespass after authorities arrested them May 30 for remaining on secured port property after authorities had ordered them to disperse.

The first trial ended in a mistrial in late March when prosecutors obtained confidential jury information through an e-mail listserv maintained by the codefendants that was supposed to be confidential.

All charges were dropped in June before the second trial because of the belated release of documents by the sheriff's office nearly a year after the protests.

Separately, red-colored graffiti on an Olympia business reading "No Port Militarization! Oly: Unite" was connected to a string of vandalism that occurred last weekend.

Bricks or rocks were thrown into the windows of two churches, the Flood the Sound Church in the 2300 block of 26th Avenue Northwest and the New Apostolic Church in the 2800 block of Cooper Point Road.

Anarchy and peace symbols were spray-painted on road signs and the roadway between the two churches.

"To draw a link between the three is not that much of a stretch," sheriff's Lt. Chris Mealy said. No suspects have been arrested.

Olympia Port Militarization Resistance said it had no part in the vandalism and denounced the actions.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at