Norfolk-based sailor uses web to channel opposition to war
By Louis Hansen, The Virginian Pilot, 5 November 2006

NORFOLK - Jonathan Hutto graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science and a résumé of social activism. He worked for the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International after college. He whipped up grassroots protests against police departments and college administrators.

One day in 2003, broke and seeking direction, Hutto enlisted in the Navy. The Navy couldn't have known it then, but they know it now: They had signed up a sailor strongly opposed to the Iraq war.

Seaman Hutto pleated his uniform, memorized naval history and won sailor of the quarter among his junior enlisted shipmates. Then he appeared on CNN, the BBC and in the pages of The Washington Post and The Navy Times. But he wasn't reciting the Sailor's Creed. Hutto was organizing again. This time, against the U.S. involvement in Iraq. "We're not trying to embarrass the military," Hutto said during an interview last week at a local restaurant. "At the same time, we live in a democracy."

Hutto, 29, lives and works aboard the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. When he enlisted, the Navy trained him as a photographer. He writes for the ship newspaper and anchored its shipwide television broadcast. Off-duty, he shifts between the campus of Old Dominion University and the cafés and bookstores in Ghent. Armed with a laptop and cell phone, Hutto leads a group of volunteers in an online campaign against the war.

Supported by antiwar military family and veterans organizations, Hutto and a handful of other service members created a Web site called An Appeal for Redress. Activated in October, it allows active-duty and reserve troops to e-mail their representatives in Congress for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Their message: "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home." Hutto said the site has attracted about 1,200 responses. Volunteers have verified messages from about 700 service members, he said, from the lowest ranks up to O-6 - Navy captain or full colonel in the other services. Soldiers have been the most vocal, followed by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Hutto and Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, a campaign co-founder, said response has been mostly positive, although some e-mailers accuse them of being anti-American. Rodney Green, an economics professor at Howard University in Washington, mentored Hutto when he was elected student body president as a junior in 1997. Hutto fought and beat the administration's effort to close off a public street in the middle of campus, he said.

Green, who protested the Vietnam War while serving in the Army, was at first surprised Hutto enlisted. But on the other hand, he said, "He's a leader." Hutto declined to apply for officer candidate school, and enlisted instead. From boot camp to the ship, Hutto said, "It's been drilled into you - you don't have any rights." Or, as he said one veteran sailor told him, "The only right you have is to get to work and get fed."

"I never really accepted that," Hutto said. Hutto believed the service would teach him focus and discipline and would help him pay back his student loans. He opposed the war when he joined the Navy, but kept it private.

In June, Hutto organized a lecture at the Norfolk YWCA by University of Notre Dame professor David Cortright, an antiwar activist and author of "Soldiers in Revolt." A few active-duty service members then met for a late-night discussion at a Norfolk home. Cortright, Hutto, Madden and about 10 other service members talked about the war.

In the quiet confidence of a private home, dressed in civilian clothes, the group came to a painful but certain consensus: Iraq was bad and getting worse. They wanted to know what else they could do. Although the men worried about their careers, paychecks and families, Hutto and Madden were willing to become the public face of troop dissent.

"Nothing will really happen until people speak up," said Madden, a 22-year-old stationed at Quantico who served one tour in Iraq. Madden opposed the war before and during his deployment, but kept his feelings to himself. Cmdr. Chris Sims, spokesman for Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force, said Hutto has not violated Department of Defense or Navy regulations. Sailors may freely speak with the media when off duty, he said.

Others are angry. The terrorists "love this attention," said Tom Miller, a Navy veteran and Michigan resident whose son, Army Capt. Tom Miller II, was killed in August 2005 by small arms fire in Iraq. "My son was so patriotic," he said. "Where are we going to fight these people, these terrorists?"

After the Web site was publicized two weeks ago, Hutto's supervisor pulled him aside and laid out the Navy's ground rules: The campaign had to be done on personal time, out of uniform and off base. Hutto, who studied military rules and consulted lawyers before launching the campaign, agreed. Said Green, "He's always been clever that way."

Hutto is a finalist again for sailor of the year, yet he still raises some eyebrows with the photos of Malcolm X, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Che Guevara at his desk aboard ship. The campaign has "struck a good nerve," Hutto said. "Democracy, to me, has to be across the society."