When Benjamin Lewis was 17, he joined the Marine
Corps' delayed entry program, looking for a new direction in his life.
He had dropped out of school and was struggling. The military seemed
like a good option.
After two deployments to Iraq, and an
honorable discharge, Lewis, now 23, recently learned that he might be
involuntarily redeployed to the region. He's decided that he's not
going back, even if it means facing imprisonment.
The road to that decision was a long one.
in California, Lewis's recruiter talked him into going back to school
to get his diploma before heading to boot camp in San Diego. After
three months of infantry training, he joined the Third Battalion Fourth
Marines in 29 Palms, Calif. They deployed in 2004, where the battalion
participated in the first assault against Fallujah, supporting
After a crash course in Arabic, Lewis
became a translator for his platoon on patrols. He spent a lot of time
on foot patrols in Haditha, living for months with local policemen
there, sometimes working long hours with almost no sleep.
"We were really just making a show of force, marching around the streets and making a show of our presence."
returning to the United States following their first tour, the
battalion was redeployed to Iraq in 2005. They operated a vehicle
checkpoint in Fallujah for seven months.
"It was a very long and stagnant tour," he said.
spent the last year of his service as an urban combat instructor in
California for the Marine's Mojave Viper operation, where he realized
that teaching suited him.
"That was almost like being deployed. It was 14-hour days. You'd get a couple days off every 20 days or so."
2007, Lewis was honorably discharged from active duty. He moved to
Corvallis and enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College to pursue a
dual degree in philosophy and English literature. He planned eventually
to work with peace organizations. But two months ago, Lewis learned he
was being considered for involuntary reactivation under the military's
2004 Individual Ready Reserves provision.
As a Marine, Lewis had
made an eight-year commitment to the Marines, so although he was
discharged, he was still eligible for redeployment. But in the year
since Lewis had left the Marines, he'd realized that he did not agree
with the Marine Corps' actions in Iraq, or with the United States'
involvement in the region.
Last month, Lewis went to Kansas
City, Mo., for muster, or formal military inspection. At that time, he
and other Marines were told that they'd receive their formal orders
within two months. Lewis is now waiting to hear the final word, but
said he has long since decided to refuse to reactivate.
has contacted groups such as Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans
Against the War. He's consulted attorneys about what might happen if he
refuses. He said he's prepared for jail time, if that is the result,
but until that time, he's speaking out against the war.
COVALLIS, Wa. - "After
being in the Marine Corps and joining up with the intention of helping
people and hoping to execute those romantic ideals you see in the
advertisement," he said, "once you're there you realize not only are
you not capable of doing it, you're in an organization that suppresses
any individual will to do such things."
Lewis started having
these thoughts while training other Marines during his time with Mojave
Viper. He said that having some distance from Iraq, and time to learn
more about how the United States got into the war originally, gave him
a new perspective.
"I was able to be more objective, and I was
watching these mentalities," he said. "They started to scare me, the
convictions that people had over things that were complete fallacies."
this month, Lewis plans to fly to Washington, D.C., to talk to
activists there. He is trying to start an Iraqi Veterans Against the
War chapter in Portland with a satellite in Corvallis. He's been
writing about his experiences and his convictions. He's interested in
talking to other Iraq war veterans who have served since Sept. 11,
2001, and he's asking them to contact him at email@example.com.
He's also awaiting his final orders, and he's dealing with the reality that his decisions could mean he'll face jail time.
"I made the resolve once I left 29 Palms that I would never go back into the Marine Corps."