Sense of duty draws US veterans to Dakota pipeline protest
In the back reaches of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp, U.S. military veterans, armed with saws, hammers and other tools, are quietly building barracks, an infirmary and a mess hall.
Despite the bitter cold and an evacuation order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the veterans hope to erect enough space to house at least several hundred peers making their way into the Oceti Sakowin Camp here in Cannon Ball.
Veterans interviewed by Reuters gave a plethora of motives for traveling here. Some felt it was their patriotic duty to defend protesters, especially since Native Americans have historically had an active presence in the U.S. military. Native Americans serve at a high rate in the armed forces, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sense of purpose and camaraderie
For others, coming here offers a sense of purpose they have lacked since returning to civilian society. For all, the camaraderie with those who have also shared military service was important.
The veterans arriving say their presence will make it less likely that police will resort again to aggressive tactics, after water cannons and tear gas were used on a group of protesters in sub-freezing temperatures two weeks ago.
More than 500 activists have been arrested over the last several months.
'Stand in front of the guns and the mace and the water'
“I felt it was our duty to come and stand in front of the guns and the mace and the water and the threat that they pose to these people," said Anthony Murtha, 29, from Detroit, who served in the U.S. Navy from 2009 to 2013.
Veterans at the camp say pictures and video of water hoses used against Native Americans spoke to their concern of heavy-handed tactics used by law enforcement.