Protesters rally against veterans fair listen08/11/08 Concetta DeLuco
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Rain did not stop hundreds from gathering at East Lake High School on Saturday for the second annual Military Day and Veterans Resources Fair held by Rep. Gus Bilirakis. While most of the crowd was there to enjoy the festivities, about 50 protesters rallied on the edge of the school property.
Rep. Bilirakis said the purpose of the fair was to raise public awareness of the services and benefits available to veterans and their families in Pinellas County. Organizations such as Disabled American Veterans and Worknet Pinellas, groups dedicated to improving the lives of veterans through their assistance programs, were stationed outside the auditorium to provide information to the veterans in attendance.
As the many parents took photos of their children holding machine guns and posing in the tanks and hummers that were located in the parking lot of the school amid free hot dogs and rock climbing, the protesters watched in dismay.
Sergie Kostin, a protester since the beginning of the war in Iraq, brought his 13-year-old nephew with him. He said holding the event at a high school is a strategic military maneuver.
Bettejo Indelicato is a protester who visited Iraq back in 2003 to protest the sanctions and help the Iraqi people once U.S. bombing began. Indelicato said she has seen the devastating effects of war first hand and it will remain â€œforever dark in her life to see what human beings can do to other human beings.â€
Veterans for Peace Tampa Bay, a non-profit organization for veterans, were contacted to lead the protest. Debra Hedding, a member of Veterans for Peace as well as a Vietnam and Desert Storm Veteran, masqueraded as a wounded civilian complete with makeup resembling blood and battle wounds.
Hedding described the efforts Veterans for Peace are making to help veterans. Holding a protest sign with graphic pictures of Iraqi children maimed by U.S. bombings, Hedding said she was also there to make the young children who attended the military fair realize the effects that the U.S. weapons of mass destruction are having.
Sherri Good, a self-described former military brat whose husband and several family members have served in the military brought her children to participate in the revelries. She said she was there to honor veterans who have paid â€œa heck of a priceâ€ for our freedom.
Brad Wilson is a machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard. While attending to a military water vessel that was on display, Wilson said he was at the event to educate people about the many different career opportunities that the military had to offer. And like the other members of the military posted at informational booths along the school yard, he was there to recruit possible new members.
Travis Schmaltz, a new soldier in the U.S. army, did not think that being in the military was a bad thing.
According to Bilirakis, the Military Day and Veteranâ€™s Resources Fair was such a hit last year, that many of his congressional colleagues are holding similar events in their districts.