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Packed Ithaca NY council supports Spc Steve Loope

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December 5, 2008 update - Spc. Loope turned himself in this morning at Ft. Drum. The Army may take some time to announce if they intend to court martial him.

Krisy Gashler, Ithaca Journal. December 4, 2008

A Fort Drum soldier absent without leave petitioned Ithaca's Common Council Wednesday night to make good on its pledge to be a “community of sanctuary” for soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq.

Ithaca's Common Council chambers were filled beyond capacity with people supporting U.S. Army specialist Stephen Trevor Loope, who left Fort Drum last year after what he described as “mental abuse” from his peers and superiors and unresponsive or non-existent mental health treatment.

A 22-year-old from Austin, Texas, Loope served a 15-month tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade 10th Mountain Division starting in February 2006.

Common Council in October passed a resolution declaring itself a “community of sanctuary” that would “respect and not interfere with the lawful activities of military personnel, veterans, and all others who are opposed to the immoral wars in and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and all other violations of the United Nations and Nuremberg Charters.”

Loope said he planned to turn himself in to the Army at Fort Drum today and asked members of Common Council to write letters to his superiors on his behalf. He said he could be facing a court martial, dishonorable discharge and/or jail time.

Loope said he believes the war in Iraq is “immoral” but that the war in Afghanistan may not be. However, he is not seeking conscientious objector status. Rather, he contends that the Army did not provide the mental health care he needed as a result of his service.

Loope said when he sought mental health care at Fort Drum, his Army therapist “told me that I was fine and sent me back to active duty.”

He left Fort Drum and was diagnosed by a Houston trauma specialist with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, he said.

Press notices announcing Loope's intention to speak at Common Council did not include his last name, which was not revealed until just before the 7 p.m. meeting.

Without his full name, Fort Drum spokeswoman Julie Cupernall was not able to comment on Loope's status Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking generally, Cupernall said Fort Drum has a Warrior Transition Unit to help soldiers with mental and physical trauma “that may make it difficult for them to continue their career in the military.”

“Speaking just for myself, I mean, I have nothing but the most compassion in the world for our soldiers who suffer trauma, mental or physical, from the combat time that they've seen serving our country, but there are right ways and wrong ways to do things,” Cupernall said. “By going through the warrior transition unit, they are legally out-processed and discharged the right way.”

Loope responded, “I understand the military always has the right way and the wrong way. I mean, usually even though there is a right way, they usually go about the wrong way in a lot of things.”

At Common Council chambers, nearly 80 people came to support Loope and encourage members of Common Council to write letters on his behalf.

Three members of Iraq Veterans Against the War were among the half dozen who spoke in support of Loope.

Almost every member of Common Council indicated his or her willingness to write on Loope's behalf.

Alderman Dan Cogan, D-5th, said he was “glad that Ithaca's actions have been able to inspire soldiers” like Loope to stand up for themselves.

“Our country is wrecking the lives of young people,” Cogan said. “Anything I can do to put a stop to it, I'm happy to do.”

Alderman J.R. Clairborne, D-2nd and a Navy veteran, said the military is sending people to “hell's living room” then dropping them back in their communities without adequate support.

“The care for veterans to get them back on track ... is the least that we can do,” he said.

After the meeting, Loope said he felt “a huge weight off my shoulders, a big relief.”

“The response from the council was more than I ever could have imagined,” he said.

Also: Local TV news coverage (video)

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