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Nashoba Publishing/John Love
Ian DeBay says his goal was to make people more aware.
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Correspondent

GROTON — As the Middle Eastern theater of the war on terror continues to dominate the minds of government officials, military strategists and political pundits, its effects have not gone unnoticed among ordinary citizens concerned about the direction taken by the administration regarding its policies in Iraq.

With the war in Iraq entering its fifth year, mounting casualties suffered by the nation’s military have forced Americans to reassess their positions on the conflict. A recent “troop surge” ordered by President George Bush is seen by many as a last chance to halt Iraq’s slide into chaos.

To others however, the change in strategy has made no difference in their opposition to the war. New voices are being raised in opposition to the president’s plans for Iraq, voices recently heard in local schools.

Groton-Dunstable Regional High School student Ian DeBay was prompted into speaking out and holding a “peace rally” at school upon learning of the president’s decision to increase troop levels in Iraq.

“I just kind of thought of the idea but mostly it was in response to George Bush’s speech to send more troops to Iraq,” said DeBay, a resident of Dunstable. “It was something that I’d been thinking about and decided to finally do something about.

“I was mostly dealing in response to sending more troops over because I don’t think it’s necessary,” DeBay continued, adding that his actions are not necessarily against the wider war on terror. “It’s time we should actually be pulling out of Iraq and giving the Iraqis more freedom as we first intended to do.”

Moved to express his feelings about the war in Iraq, the high school junior began a “grassroots” campaign to get the word out about his intention to walk out of class and hold a vigil in the school parking area, hoping to raise awareness.

Through simple word of mouth and e-mailing, DeBay gathered about 20 like-minded fellow students who followed him out of class just after noontime on Jan. 18.

“I was happy with the numbers even so, because I wasn’t really sure who would show up,” said DeBay. “So any amount of support I had was good. I think that a lot of people were scared of getting into trouble. Either that, or they were just opposed to it or didn’t think too much about it.”

Outside, the group held signs, sang songs and read statements in protest of the troop surge and in defiance of the school district’s rules regarding skipping classes.

“I had talked to the administration about it beforehand,” said DeBay. “They said that they were going to have to follow the school’s guidelines for students who skipped class, which amounted to two days of suspension. It was up to the teachers to give us up but we haven’t heard anything yet. It takes a little while to work its way through the bureaucracy. There are rumors but I’ll take whatever comes.”

Punishment for skipping classes in the district is two days suspension but efforts to contact school officials on the question of DeBay’s actions were unsuccessful.

As for DeBay himself, he was anxious that the rally not be misinterpreted.

“It was brought to my attention after the rally that people might think it was anti-American,” DeBay said. “But in my opinion, everyone that was out there was pro-American and just didn’t want to see more kids our age or slightly older getting killed.”

DeBay said that although he has given some thought to other kinds of action to raise people’s awareness of the Iraq issue, such as a letter-writing campaign, he has made “no big plans yet.”

In the meantime, the high school junior is satisfied with his efforts.

“I believe my actions have been effective,” said DeBay, “because my main goal was to get more people aware about what’s happening in Iraq. I think that doing it during school hours and with the press attention and stuff, people have started to think about it more.”