Last week US Veterans traveled north to helped stop a contested oil pipeline running through North Dakota. Veterans could quickly become important partners of activists on the environment, the economy, race and other issues that divide Americans.
Several academics said the effort to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others opposed to the pipeline project was likely the biggest gathering of its kind of former military personnel since the early 1970s when U.S. veterans marched against the Vietnam War.
The veterans at Standing Rock were led by former Marine Michael Wood Jr and Army veteran Wes Clark Jr, son of retired U.S. general Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO.
Mick Glackler-Riquelme arrived at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest site in North Dakota ready to take his place along the front line and withstand whatever authorities threw at him.
“I was geared up to get up in the front and take the punishment that I’d seen doled out to protesters previous to me,” he said.
The Army veteran of Mankato is one of the thousands of in the Veterans for group who arrived during the weekend to stand in solidarity with the Sioux tribe and allies protesting a portion of the the oil pipeline slated to cross under the Missouri River less than a mile from their reservation.
Through coincidence or not, the veterans’ presence coincided with the announcement of a major victory for the protesters. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday it wouldn’t grant an easement for that portion of the $3.7 billion pipeline until further environmental and cultural impacts could be determined.
Glackler-Riquelme arrived just in time to see the camp’s celebrations, describing the site as having an “explosive energy.” He was told the police force he was ready to stand up to had receded shortly after the announcement broke.
Both he and his family back in Mankato are hopeful he now may not have to put his body in harm’s way for the cause — about 300 people have been treated at the site after tear gas contamination, rubber bullet wounds and hypothermia caused by being sprayed with fire hoses in frigid weather.
But he and many in the camp aren’t leaving yet, either. While Sunday marked a positive step for them, the delay has many skeptical about how long it’ll last before the pipeline continues construction as planned.
“Nobody has any illusions that this is final,” he said. “It’s a first step.”
Officials with stakes in the pipeline are already calling on President-elect Donald Trump to push the pipeline through once he takes office in January. Jeremiah Myer, a North Mankato man who organized two anti-pipeline protests locally, said the corporations behind the project will not easily give up.
“They’re very big and powerful, and they don’t like to lose,” he said. “I fully expect them to renew their efforts.”
Along with the events he planned, Myer said he knew of Mankato residents who ran supplies up to the camp since the protests started. The arrival of the veterans, though, seemed to be a real game changer in the movement, he said.
“I do think it was interesting that they had total refusal until the veterans arrived,” he said.
Glackler-Riquelme, too, said the timing seemed odd. But the veterans he’s involved with are quick to credit the positive development to the efforts of the tribe and its allies who’ve been fighting against the pipeline from the beginning, he said.
His role supplementing their efforts so far has involved shuttling people to and from campsites to rally points. He left Saturday in a van — stuffed to the brim with blankets, pillows and donated supplies from friends who wanted to support the cause — not knowing exactly where he’d be staying.
He spent the first couple nights sleeping in a gymnasium at a recreation center away from the main campsite. Communicating with family back in Mankato hasn’t been easy given how busy he’s been and the spotty cell reception. His wife, Marisel, likened the last few days to the times he was sent overseas in the military.
“It’s very similar to his regular deployment,” she said.
Glackler-Riquelme spent 21 years in the army before retiring as a staff sergeant in 2014. His deployments have included Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, mainly working as an engineer.
He said his decision to support the protest was a no-brainer once he knew his family supported the cause as much as he did.
“Their hearts are with the community of and they can identify the injustice,” he said.
He said there’s no set timetable for his return, adding he hopes his and other veterans’ presence can continue to add to the cause.
“We’re giving those warriors on the frontline a respite,” he said of his current mission. “We want to do what we can to bring this visibility.”
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.
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