Comedy Takes a Stand for the Troops in Manhattan

If the U.S. government recruits soldiers and sends them around the world often in harm's way, it is incumbent upon our nation and its people to be there for them when the return. Stand for the Troops helps us do just that.
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The organization Stand for the Troops (SFTT) had a benefit at New York's famed Gotham Comedy Club next to the Chelsea Hotel headlined by Saturday Night Live's Colin Quinn last week. I did not really want to go. I find Rah-Rah America, pro-military organizations offensive. However, I did attend.

During the VIP reception I was approached by an affable gentleman who introduced himself as Major General John Batiste. I admitted to him that, raised by parents deeply active in protest against the Vietnam War, I was not overly excited to be there. He smiled and said he understood. He reminded me that he was the officer who took part in what Vanity Fair had called The Night of the Generals.

Major General John Batiste and comedian Colin Quinn with founder Eilhys England Hackworth.
Photo: Jonathan Auch.

I suddenly remembered how Batiste had been my hero when he testified in Congress in 2006 on Don Rumsfeld's lack of leadership and the failure of the Bush Administration to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with worldwide Islamic extremism. He called for Rumsfeld's resignation. Incredible. That was revolutionary and helped, I believe, pave the way for Barack Obama to be elected.

So my mind opened. This maverick West Point grad, who served in the Gulf War and Iraq and helped plan our role in Afghanistan, explained to me that the organization was a leader in advocacy and treatment for returning veterans and their families. Co-founded by Col. David Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England Hackworth, the organization is not so much pro-military as much as pro-soldier. It struck me as a union-organizing effort for GIs -- how cool.

John Batiste speaks with Eilhys England Hackworth and SNL comedian MC Eddie Brill listen.
Photo: Jonathan Auch

Stand for the Troops does not take a stand on the appropriateness of U.S. military action around the world, they advocate that if soldiers get recruited to go overseas it is incumbent upon our government and the public to make sure they are as safe as can be while deployed and not treated like trash when they come home, often with PTSD or worse. This non-partisan, non-profit group is dedicated to protecting America's frontline troops, working to safeguard the physical and mental well-being of men and women deployed on the frontlines.

Founded by David "Hack" Hackworth who passed away in 2006 and run today by his wife Eilhys England Hackworth. Photo: SFTT.

After talking a while with John, I then chatted at length with Eilhys England Hackworth and quickly learned that John had not been one to only wave the flag. In fact, Hack's career basically ended when, in 1971, as the youngest Colonel in the Army and a renowned battlefield commander, he spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War in an effort to stop the futile fighting... and the dying. Hack and Eilhys founded Stand for the Troops in mid-1990's.

Comic Todd Womack, Dr. Judy Kuriansky, comic Tommy Davidson, Gotham Comedy Club's Chris Mazzilli, Eilhys England Hackworth, and Major General John Batiste. Photo: Jonathan Auch.

Hack's widow Eilhys explained to me the significance of her husband's life:

My valiant, wonderful husband, one of America's greatest heroes and most valor-decorated soldiers, died in my arms (six) years ago this past May. During the last weeks we shared, he thought not a whit about himself; and his love for me burned so brightly. I still feel surrounded by the awesome warmth.

But, he worried too about the frontline troops he spent his life protecting, and particularly about Stand for the Troops, the foundation we started together. So, I promised Hack I would pick up the torch and keep SFTT viable -- and continue our commitment to get the kids out at the tip of the spear, the best leadership, training and equipment.

In spite of the major stories we broke -- such as the lack of up-to-date body armor, or none at all, when the troops first went back into Iraq or the unarmored Hummers; or Abu Ghraib which pointed so clearly to flaws in both training and leadership -- most people we addressed when we tried to raise awareness and funds found it difficult to accept that our soldiers and Marines were not getting the right stuff with which to wage war.

Hack had warned us about on Larry King when we first went into Iraq: in spite of all our vows to the contrary, we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into another Vietnam with far greater potential fall-out. Sure, because of medical and technological advances, we will not have a black granite wall listing 58,000 fallen warriors; but depending upon how much longer we are stuck in Iraq, we are likely to have far more than 58,000 wounded, many grievously.

Eilhys England Hackworth stands by her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Photo: SFTT.

England continued:

As an American citizen, it is extremely offensive that our football players have more effective and more comfortable helmets than our front line troops: 18- and 19-year-old kids, out at the tip of the spear, protecting our cushy good life. These kids deserve to come back and enjoy it too.

There is no way that one organization -- or fifty organizations -- could raise the money and buy our own equipment and send it to the troops. Our strategy is to 'take truth to power.'

Interns with Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Eilhys England Hackworth, and Lorraine Cancro celebrate the work of SFTT after the comedy show at The Gotham. Photo: Jonathan Auch.

Lorraine Cancro serves as a member of the Medical Advisory Board for Stand for the Troops. She told me:

Excellent organizations offer countless services to take care of the troops, from entertaining them in Iraq, to helping them and their families when they come home. The USO, Wounded Warrior, Fisher House and so on. However, no organization, except SFTT, is dedicated day in, day out, to being there for our stalwart warriors as they stand tall for their country out in the shifting sands of the Valley of the Shadow of Death -- to try to prevent them from being killed or wounded in the first place.

SFTT's mission is to get the troops the best available, basic five critical pieces of combat gear that give them the best chance possible to come home alive and in one piece -- helmet, rifle, sidearm, boots and body armor.

SFTT has also launched a PTSD initiative which has mobilized a top medical task force to give seriously traumatized warriors access to the latest Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)/ Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) therapeutic modalities, collaborating with CDS Warrior Salute on a Pilot Treatment Program, and developing a comprehensive national referral resource. This mission is high priority: PTSD affects one in every five soldiers and Marines, 20 percent returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; while, overall, about 18 veterans a day commit suicide.

Lorraine Cancro is the Executive Director of the Global Stress Initiative (GSI) and also serves as a Global Advisor to The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation. SFTT has formed a medical advisory task force including the most prominent in the field of mental health, including renowned psychiatrist Robert Cancro, M.D. Chairman Emeritus of N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry, Grant Brenner, M.D. of New York's William Allenson White Institute, and Jaine Darwin of Harvard.

SFTT President Major General John Batiste with founder Eilhys England Hackworth and the author. Photo: Jonathan Auch.

There is a reason that Col. David Hackworth's voice was so effective in speaking on behalf of the common soldier. In several years of combat in Korea and Vietnam, he won the Army's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, twice, along with ten Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts. Col. David Hackworth, a champion of the common soldier died of cancer at age 74. His words and wisdom live on through the work and dedication of his wife Eilhys England and her dedicated team including Gen. John Batiste. If the U.S. government recruits soldiers and sends them around the world often in harm's way, it is incumbent upon our nation and its people to be there for them when the return. Stand for the Troops helps us do just that.

Stand for the Troops (SFTT) is a leader in advocacy and treatment for returning veterans and their families. Founded by David Hackworth who passed away in 2006 and run today by his wife Eilhys England Hackworth.

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