As my wife drove me to the I20 exit where I was meeting Brent that Sunday for the drive to Standing Rock, she asked me if I knew anything about the person I was about to spend the next 25 hours in a car with. Was it possible he was an axe murderer? “Well, I talked to him on the phone and he sounded nice. And, and, and…, he is a Marine veteran, so he has to be OK.”

That was part of what this trip was about for me, the veteran thing. We need each other at times, especially when we have been away from the military for a while. It never leaves us, the good or the bad. No one else really understands that. Not just combat vets, but anyone who served. We come from as widely varied backgrounds as you can get, but we all have that common bond. For combat vets, other vets are the only people we can speak to about certain things. They don’t judge and they understand on some relevant level regardless of their own personal experiences. This common bond is very strong.

I knew in my gut that Brent would be a good guy and that we would get along. He said his wife had asked him a similar question about me and he had given her a similar response. Military people are used to being thrown into situations that are uncertain and unknown with other people we at first do not know. And we make shit work in the face of often overwhelming odds.

Brent is indeed a great guy. He is 20-25 years younger than me, but age doesn’t matter much with veterans, our common bond spans what service you were in, what wars, and over time. All wars are pretty much the same when you get right down to it. No matter where or when, soldiers are always amazed that the military is able to get the simplest things done, but somehow it does.

Brent in Mobridge

My Marine travelling buddy Brent. You can see the Missouri River/Lake Oahe out the window as we approach the bridge in Mobridge, South Dakota. Standing Rock Reservation is on the other side of the bridge.

It also turns out that he is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock tribe and grew up 11 miles from the resistance camps. He went to high school in Cannon Ball.

It was only on Monday as we entered the blizzard that I realized how lucky I was having hooked up with someone who knew the lay of the land on the reservation. Plus, the pipeline and all that it meant was personal for him, very personal. As we drove, we hit it off and got to know each other.

He had the rental car and had started out a couple of hours before he picked me up, so he got first shift driving. I was worried about the straight through driving, especially as it would be evening before it was my turn to take over. I do not have the stamina for driving I did in my younger days. I didn’t want to let him down and I sure as hell didn’t want to have to stop to rest on the way. The rental was extremely comfortable and easy to drive fast in, a front wheel drive Ford Explorer. That would help. We weren’t going to make the original meetup in Eagle Butte, so we headed straight for the camp. Pretty much the same route in either case as we were coming in from the south rather than going north to Minnesota and then west to Bismarck.

The last time I had been west was driving to El Paso, Texas, I20 almost all the way, then I10. I hadn’t been west of the eastern continental divide and north of I20 since the early 1970s. Since that time, I have travelled in Europe and Southwest Asia many times, but never in my own country. This was going to be an adventure.

We stopped in Atlanta at what has to be the most expensive outfitter store in the most expensive neighborhood in Atlanta. High Country Outfitters was a nice store and I knew it was going to be expensive, but I really needed a good pair of gloves. $65.00, but they are good ones. Got some hand warmers and waterproofing spray for our boots.

Then, it was just a whirlwind of driving and going through places that seemed exotic. Chattanooga, Nashville, St Louis and the arches at night. Saw the sign for Ferguson, MO, then one of those brown signs announcing the Downtown Ferguson Historic Site. I was tired by then and could only think, “What the hell, there is already an historic site designation for where Michael Brown was shot and killed by police?”

Ferguson Missouri sign

Yeah, my mind was wandering when we passed through Ferguson

We tried to find out what was happening in Standing Rock during the drive. There wasn’t much. The last post that was ever put on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock Facebook event page was at 10:23 AM on Sunday, Dec 4:

The troops are arriving! Over 200 buses descending on Standing Rock!

Then it went completely dark. Both of us were constantly trying to connect with the contacts we had. Phone calls, texts, and emails all went unanswered. Not a good sign. Nothing about the events in the coming days was posted on the official event site. We were arriving late, but we figured we would get there and just fit into whatever was happening at the time. We knew there was bad weather coming. We didn’t realize just how bad. I didn’t expect communications to be nonexistant.

I was hitting NPR radio stations across the country in the hopes of news as I knew they had been covering the Veterans Stand event and profiling veterans who were making the trip. We heard about the Army Corps of Engineers decision on Sunday that the pipeline easement had been denied until an environmental impact statement could be completed. WTF? Was it over? Were we even needed anymore? And, why the hell hadn’t an environmental impact statement been done before? I assumed at least some sham impact statement had to have been done to “justify” Energy Transfer Partners moving on with this project. But there wasn’t. It made protesting this damn pipeline even more important.

This was the last thing we expected. It was good, very good. Was it because of all the publicity about the veterans going to Standing Rock? Were we responsible? I didn’t think so, but it was damn coincidental. I knew we were helping, but people had been fighting this fight for months. A few days before this, authorities had announced that the camps not on the reservation were being shut down. This did seem to be related to the veterans coming in big numbers and those announcements caused people to question going and might have made some people stay home to avoid confrontation over removal of the camps.

But, we were going there to get in a fight if, indeed, the authorities wanted a fight. Part of our mission was to put ourselves in a position to be attacked if that is what the police wanted to do. We wouldn’t provoke it, but we would be targets and in their faces. So, the threat of having a forcible removal of the camps really didn’t matter. Everything we were seeing was that the camps weren’t going anywhere. But, this “victory” of the pipeline easement denial was something else. Did we need to be there if victory had been achieved?

We really didn’t know and no one on the ground already was communicating with us. We figured that Energy Transfer Partners wasn’t going to give in that easily. We did see some posts about celebrations in the camps, but everything pointed to this not being over, although it was certainly at least a short term victory. We decided to keep going. Why not? No reason.

I am not sure where I took over driving, it was around 7 PM. I made it until 1 AM and was starting to hallucinate when I decided it was time to wake Brent up. Columbia, MO, then Kansas City, where we started heading north in a big way. Omaha, Sioux City, then into South Dakota. Souix Falls, Watertown, Aberdeen. It could have been a Grateful Dead song, but the cities weren’t the same.

Monday mid morning we hit Mobridge, SD, the last town before we entered the reservation. We stopped at a grocery store for some bottled water. It was cold and snow flakes were starting to come down. Very slowly, you had to really look to see them.

Bridge at Mobridge South Dakota going to Standing Rock Reservation

It was snowing as we crossed the bridge from Mobridge, South Dakota, to the Standing Rock Reservation

Having trouble seeing the snow come down didn’t last long.

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