U.S. military veterans joined the Occupy Wall Street protest Wednesday by marching in uniform through lower Manhattan, saying they risked their lives but now have slimmer chances of finding jobs than most Americans.
And they're angry.
About 100 veterans stopped in front of the New York Stock Exchange, standing in loose formation as police officers on scooters separated them from the entrance. On the other side was a lineup of NYPD horses carrying officers with nightsticks.
"We are marching to express support for our brother, (Iraq war veteran) Scott Olsen, who was injured in Oakland," said Jerry Bordeleau, a former Army specialist who served in Iraq through 2009.
The veterans were fired up by what they call brutality against the Marine veteran whose skull was fractured last week at an Occupy Oakland protest. Oakland police are now the subject of a formal investigation by the city's Citizens' Police Review Board.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters also planned an afternoon march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland.
Bordeleau is among thousands of veterans who have joined the movement that started in Manhattan in mid-September with a rally and march of about 100 people in the financial district.
"Wall Street corporations have played a big role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Bordeleau, 24, who attends college in New York.
He said private contractors have reaped big profits in those countries "in pursuit of corporate interests that have had a devastating effect on our economy and our country, benefiting only a small number of people."
"The 99 percent have to take a stand," Bordeleau said.
The veterans marched from the Vietnam Veterans Plaza near Wall Street down Broadway to the bronze bull that symbolizes the stock market.
"Halliburton and Bechtel think these wars are swell," they chanted, invoking the names of American companies who received contracts for work rebuilding Iraq.
At Broadway and Wall Street, the veterans stopped to observe a moment of silence for Olsen, who remains hospitalized.
Once they reached Zuccotti Park, the veterans addressed protesters and bystanders.
"For 10 years, we have been fighting wars that have enriched the 1 percent," said former Army Sgt. Joseph Carter, 27, who served in Iraq.
Two of Olsen's friends flew in from San Francisco to take part in the march.
Standing in front of the New York Stock Exchange, Josh Shepherd, a former Navy petty officer 2nd class who was next to Olsen when he was injured, read aloud the oath members of the armed forces take to defend the U.S. Constitution.
"We are here to support the Occupy Wall Street movement," he added, as former Navy Airman Jason Matherne stood by his side.
The veterans say those who fought for their country have the right to protest an economy that gives them a slimmer chance of finding jobs than most Americans.
From 2008 to 2011, the veteran unemployment rose 5.1 percentage points, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in 2011, the combat veteran unemployment has been consistently more than two percentage points higher than the national average of about 9 percent.
Veteran unemployment is projected to worsen after 10,000 servicemen return from Afghanistan and 46,000 come home from Iraq by year's end.
Bordeleau, who served in the military police, said his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder has made it impossible to pursue a career in civilian law enforcement, and that he's had a hard time finding jobs that pay more than $10 an hour. He has worked as a groundskeeper at a New York public park, while living on disability benefits.
"I can't really survive on that," he said.
Wednesday's protest comes two weeks after another veteran faced off with police.
Shamar Thomas, a decorated former Marine sergeant, went toe to toe with officers policing activists in Times Square.
"This is not a war zone! These are not armed people!" he told police in a passionate, videotaped plea that has gone viral on YouTube.
Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he believes the protest, now in its seventh week, is "really hurting small businesses and families."
He said the city has worked hard to preserve the protesters' First Amendment rights, but is very concerned about the rights of others in the area. Bloomberg said the city will take action if and when it's appropriate.
His statements came a day after area politicians asked the city to enforce laws against excessive noise and public urination.
To ease access to businesses on Wall Street, hundreds of police barricades were removed early Wednesday after discussions between City Hall and NYPD officials, said Marc LaVorgna, a mayoral spokesman.