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Military veterans say U.S. security at risk because of reliance on foreign oil from 'terrorists'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 14, 2009 - As Matt Victoriano and his fellow veterans told it Tuesday night, the push to force Congress to take action against global warming had little to do with the typical environmental arguments about clean air and more trees.

Rather, their chief concern was national security.

"Our dependence on foreign oil means we rely on hostile regimes, insurgencies and terrorists,'' said Victoriano, as he and a half-dozen allies addressed a small group of like-minded locals gathered at  VFW Post 3500 in Richmond Heights.

Victoriano, from Arkansas, is an Iraq War veteran. He noted that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia -- which remains a major supplier of oil to the U.S.

"Our national security is in their hands,'' he said.

The veterans are traveling through 21 states on a bus tour -- called the Operation Free Veterans for American Power Bus Tour --  organized and sponsored by Operation Free, which bills itself as "a coalition of veterans and national security groups working together to raise public awareness about national security threats posed by climate change and the importance of building a clean energy economy that is not tied to fossil fuels."

Wednesday's stops include visits to Jefferson City and Kansas City.

The veterans are lobbying Congress to pass a climate change measure that will start a shift away from the U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

Despite the volatile topic, the Richmond Heights gathering didn't attract the usual cadre of conservative Tea Party activists who often have picketed area events dealing with global warming or health care reform.

Those in the audience included Michelle Sherod, regional director for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who wanted her staff to hear what the veterans group had to say.

Local Operation Free activists include Mike Evans, a veteran who's now a teacher. Evans has traveled to Washington get first-hand accounts of the Pentagon's concern about the national security risk posed by climate change and the United States'reliance on fossil fuels.

Oil, said Evans, is "a threat multiplier,'' because of the troubled countries that supply much of it and the pollution that it causes here at home.

Many of the veteran speakers said they supported cleaner sources of energy, including nuclear power.

For the most part, at the VFW hall, the veterans were preaching to a small choir.

Allison Burgess of Westwood said she agreed with much of their message. "It's our dependence on foreign oil that is our greatest vulnerability,'' she said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.