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Austin-area veterans heading to North Dakota pipeline protest

About two dozen Central Texans are heading to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota on Friday, part of a nationwide mobilization of more than 2,000 veterans protesting the construction of a controversial oil pipeline.

The local delegation, made up of veterans from all five service branches, are among about 200 Texas veterans traveling to Standing Rock, where the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to close access to the protestors’ campsite on Dec. 5, organizers said.

“We are not going up there for confrontations,” said Douglas Meredith, 60, a Navy veteran living in Taylor who is coordinating travel and supplies for the Central Texas group. “Our plans are to lock arms and stand up to whatever they throw at us.”

Meredith said he felt the need to get involved after seeing police treatment of protesters. “We feel that it’s our duty to defend the Constitution and right now the Indians are being treated illegally,” he said. “We felt veterans would bring more awareness, but we also wanted to support the Indians.”

This won’t be the first time that Texas veterans have trekked to Standing Rock. In September, several Vietnam veterans who are members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas joined the pipeline protest. “The (protesters) are really getting their asses handed to them and no one has stepped in to protect them,” said Fox RedSky, 35, an Austin filmmaker and Army Reserve Veteran who accompanied the group. “It’s in our DNA to step in and be of service. That never really leaves you.”

The Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group said it received widespread interest in what it is calling a first “deployment” to slow construction of the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline.

It capped participation at 2,000 for the first wave and said future mobilizations are possible.

The veterans will arrive to frigid conditions in North Dakota, and the group urged its members to bring sleeping bags rated for subzero temperatures and other winter weather equipment. “(F)rost bite and hypothermia are a possibility unless you are properly prepared,” the group warned on Facebook.

The group also told its members to prepare for the possibility of arrest, informing them that bail is apparently running at around $1,600. Group officials warned that “we will likely be gassed, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, hit with batons and briefly arrested.”

The veterans group has raised nearly $700,000 in donations to be used for food, transportation and supplies. Lawyers and medics will also be part of the contingent.

The group asked veterans to wear a part of their uniform, but not to include their rank as “we’re brothers and sisters.”

Demonstrators at Standing Rock have been protesting the $3.8 billion pipeline for months, warning that it could pollute drinking water and sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

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