'Only 18 years old'

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Stay the course to prevent a bloody civil war. Partition Iraq and get out as quickly as possible. Forget Iraq and pursue al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Stop embedding media with our troops.

Those were just four of the positions espoused at Creative Loafing's Political Party on Oct. 16, a session devoted to starting a dialogue about looking ahead in the Middle East and not backward.

Our panelists included Sonny Vergara, the former executive director of the Swiftmud water agency and a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam; Michael Pinson, a financial author and adviser who served as a military policeman during Gulf War I; and John Kieffer, a member of the Veterans for Peace who served in the mechanized infantry along the DMZ during the Vietnam War.

Their thoughts, and those of our live audience, will be available by podcast at our website (tampa.creativeloafing.com) and on an upcoming broadcast on Tampa Bay Community Network public access television.

We're going to continue to publish your views in our series on the war in Iraq, and you can submit your thoughts either online at our Political Party blog (which can be accessed off of our website's homepage) or by sending e-mail to [email protected]. This week, one of our scheduled panelists who couldn't make it to the Political Party, Norma Aviles, gives us her thoughts:

"First of all, I want to make clear that I support the military, but I don't support the war.

"There is a distinction between who made the decision to go to war and who has to follow orders.

"I believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Our government should've never sent our troops to that country. As we know now, due to all the books that have been written and people that resigned from the administration, that this administration created false excuses to go into that country.

"At this point, seeing how the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, we should pull our troops out of Iraq. There is no sense on continuing putting our troops in danger. We already lost too many of our brave soldiers there and spent billions of taxpayer's money.

"I lost my son Andy in this war, and I ask myself every day: Why was he sent there? They took a young, smart, wonderful kid and got him killed. He was only 18 years old; he was supposed to start college the fall of 2002. He had a full academic scholarship to Florida State University. It is needless to say that our hearts are completely broken.

"We don't want any more families to go through what were going through; let's stop the madness."

—Norma Aviles

Mother of Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Aviles, USMC Reservist

KIA April 7, 2003, Iraq

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