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Iraq War veterans might not be associated with the fight against climate change, but a group of veterans is touring the country with the message that a hotter Earth poses a major threat to America's national security.

A bus rolled into town Monday evening with four veterans who served in Iraq and Kuwait. One of them, Marine Alex Cornell du Houx, patrolled the areas around Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006. He saw huge lines of cars and trucks waiting for gasoline.

"This country was absolutely crippled because of their reliance on a single source of energy," he said. "They were willing to riot for fuel."

Cornell du Houx and the other vets on the tour said that increasing environmental stress from climate change will cause more conflicts, and the American military may be deployed overseas more often to protect national interests.

For example, climate research estimates that rising sea levels will displace millions of people who live within a mile of the ocean, and the vets on the tour are worried that groups like al-Qaida will try to exploit that change against the United States. The group would like to see more green jobs and less reliance on foreign oil.

Sleek campaign literature features similar sentiments from former senators, national security advisers and governors.

Former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley introduced the veterans, who spoke at First Congregational Church. Tooley served in Vietnam and now runs the Urban Institute at Montana State University Billings. "Beyond our overdependence on fossil fuels, the burning of these fuels releases more carbon dioxide," Tooley said. "Climate change will force the U.S. to divert its resources away from our security."

Billings was just the third stop on the tour, which began earlier in the day in Missoula and will run through the northern states before ending in Maine on Oct. 24. Another bus is working its way through southern states.

The tour touts support from several veterans' and national-security organizations, including the National Security Network, Veterans Green Jobs and VoteVets.org. The tour's Web site, www.operationfree.net, says that the tour is paid for by the Truman National Security Project.

The group has aligned itself with clean-energy legislation sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and the group hopes that green jobs will benefit veterans who are returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robin Eckstein, an Army veteran from Wisconsin, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and drove trucks loaded with either fuel or water. Now unemployed, Eckstein is hoping that she can find a green job.

Another vet on the tour, Rick Hegdahl, said he got involved because of what he learned while serving in the Navy in Kuwait just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Hegdahl commanded a patrol boat that would keep watch on giant oil tankers waiting to fill up.

"It really dawned on me that the primary reason we were there was to control the shipping lanes for oil," he said. "I said, 'Something's wrong. Something's really wrong.' "

Contact Matt Hagengruber at mhagengruber@billingsgazette.com or 657-1261.

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