When a large, blue military bus sat parked outside the Woodbury Student Center on Monday, March 29, the engine wasn’t idling and the decorated veterans who exited the bus weren’t on campus to seek fresh recruits. “The US imports oil from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and the largest source of Taliban funding comes from the private donations of Saudi oil barons. To quote CIA chief James Woolsey, ‘we’re funding both sides of the war on terror’,” said Andrew Campbell, an Army logistics specialist with the Maine 133 Engineer Battalion and USM junior psychology major.

President Selma Botman introduced the event along with Student Body President Maggie Guzman. Both Botman and Guzman congratulated the veterans for speaking up on clean energy and coming to USM. “Students are very committed to these issues on campus and we’re very excited that President Botman has signed the [American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment] for USM, so the President is acting too,” said Guzman.

The commitment includes setting a date for climate neutrality. USM has pledged to produce no net emissions of green house gases as soon as possible and no later than 2040.

Campbell wasn’t speaking in his capacity as a USM student senator, but as one of a multitude of veterans who support Operation Free – a campaign for clean renewable energy based on US national security interests. Campbell was deployed to Mosul, Iraq as a logistics specialist in 2004-2005. He said he saw first hand how dependent America’s armed forces are on oil and how many brave soldiers died defending convoys that were just carrying fossil fuels. Campbell advocated for more renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. “The cleanest energy we have is the energy we don’t use in the first place,” said Campbell.

Campbell stood between Alex Cornell de Houx, a Bowdoin college graduate and Marine Corps veteran of Iraq who is now a Maine State representative for Brunswick and Mike Breen, a decorated paratrooper from New Hampshire. De Houx pointed out that the military the Department of Defense understand the dangers of America’s dependence on fossil fuels and recently tested an A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air-support aircraft that flew entirely on cellulosic ethanol. Earlier this year the Department of Defense released the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that makes an unprecedented case for the geopolitical and security threats posed to the United States by climate change.

Paratrooper Green said when the price of oil goes up, Middle Eastern states like Iran make windfall profits that they often funnel to militant groups and terrorists. “It’s a cycle we have to break. Climate change will exacerbate the problem down the line. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” explained Green. China is pushing ahead aggressively with renewable energy research and development and according to Green, America needs to catch up according to Green.

Operation Free began its bus tour on January 13 in Washington DC and will travel to 27 states holding 125 events where veterans will advocate for America pushing harder towards renewable energy. Andrew Campbell felt so strongly about this issue that he joined the Operation Free bus tour in Montana for 30 stops in 12 days as they made their way to Maine. Campbell urged USM students to get involved in clean energy groups on campus and write to their representatives.

Cheryl Leeman, a representative of Senator Olympia Snow and long-time Portland City Councilor and spoke from the audience about the importance of clean energy and recycling programs, saying that if everyone contributes a little, they will make a big difference. Ralph Johnston, an 89-year-old World War II Veteran and grandfather of two USM students who attended the event said that he has traveled to Augusta to meet with lawmakers to advocate for clean energy. “You’re the future, your future depends on clean energy. The oil and coal that comes out of the ground is a finite source and we need to leave some of that there for future generations, so we need renewable clean energy.”

The veterans and the volunteers helping them took down their signs quickly after the event in order to climb aboard the blue bio-diesel bus and try to motivate another audience to take action in Augusta.

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