Two months ago, I took a stand that changed my life forever. As a Soldier, a JVB Protective Service Agent, and a Sniper with the Army who had been in Iraq for a year (running over 250 combat missions), I refused to continue to be a part of the occupation. I regret nothing. This is my story. Currently, as I write this I am sitting in Kuwait, on "stand-by" to return to the States sometime hopefully this week. After getting out of the brig last week, I'm now scheduled to be discharged from the Army within the month. I'm looking forward to joining forces with anti-Iraq-War movements, such as Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
What led me to this place in my life?
Joining up, the first time
I joined the U.S. Marine Corps in the spring of 1999, the month of my 18th birthday.
I grew up in the custody of the state of Kentucky with little contact with my biological parents since I was 13. I had no family support system and ended up on the streets, doing what street kids do.
By 16, I had eased into hard drugs. I had not been to school since the first part of 9th grade, and I was short on about everything but street smarts, an untapped sense of ambition, and a tough guy attitude.
When I walked into the recruiting station I learned that in order to join the Corps, I would need either a high school diploma or a GED with a waiver-unless I also had certain college credits. When I told them that I was 16 and had only completed 8th grade, they quickly dismissed me, not expecting to see me again.
They were wrong.
Not only did I earn my GED, I also did a semester at the local college. A year and a half later the month I turned 18, March 1999, I walked back into the same recruiting station, spoke to the same recruiter, showed him my GED and my college transcripts and felt my first real sense of pride.
Thirteen weeks after arriving at Parris Island, I was changed forever. I graduated as the leader of a platoon squad with a meritorious promotion, and was now well on my way to a shining career as a Marine.
Then came September 11, 2001.
Re-enlisting for my country
Like many after September 11th I wanted to serve, again. I felt I owed something more to my country after my years of training. I trusted my president and my leadership to tell me the truth. I also trusted my own integrity. I knew that I would never willingly do anything that I knew to be immoral or wrong.
I re-enlisted in 2004-this time in the Army National Guard.
At the time I believed that those serving in the 'global war on terror' were doing so because they believed in what they were doing-not because they were under compulsion by a contract or retained by stop-loss. After having seen the situation on the ground, I now believe I was wrong. In 2006, I shipped out to Iraq.
In Iraq I was as a JVB Agent-the JVB (Joint Visitors Bureau) served as the protective service for "three star generals and above" and their "civilian equivalents". This included the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their equivalents in a number of our "allied nations", and others. I trained for my job as part of this "special unit" prior to deployment, and I spent the majority of my tour in the company of the most powerful people connected to the "global war on terror".
Even as a JVB agent, my primary job was still infantry. On days when we didn't have any JVB missions, we would be called on for "search and cordon" operations and other infantry assignments. So, although I worked at the JVB, I was still on the roster of a sniper platoon tasked with various missions "outside the wire"-either as "sniper overwatch" or house raids.
I reasoned that my actions during these missions were justified in the name of "self-defense." However, I came to realize my perception was wrong. I was in a country that I had no right to be in, violating the lives of people, and doing so without regard to the same standards of dignity and respect that we as Americans hold our own homes and our own lives to.
I have taken and/or destroyed the lives of people who were defending their families from being the "collateral damage" of the day. Iraqi boys are joining groups like "Al Qaeda" for the same reason street kids in the U.S. join the "Cribs" and the "Bloods". It's about self protection, a sense of dignity, and making a stand.
The young man whose father and cousin we "accidentally" killed, and whose mother and siblings cry every time the tank rolls through the neighborhood, doesn't care who Osama Bin Laden is. The "militants" we attacked were usually no different than an armed neighborhood watch group who didn't trust their government. We didn't trust the government either, and we put them in power!
Our own sacrifices, as tragic as they are (and they are tragic), are dwarfed in comparison to the carnage that has been brought on the Iraqi people.
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"Success" in Iraq is not a matter of the number of coalition deaths "declining". Success would be an end of the catastrophe we have inflicted on a entire society, and restoration of dignity and sovereignty.
Iraqis continue to die at a rate 10 to 20 times that of the coalition forces. In Baghdad alone, five years and $950 billion later, the population suffers power and water outages that last for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, we often impose martial law so that no one can leave. The day I saw myself in the hateful eyes of a young Iraqi boy who stared at me was the day I realized I could no longer justify my role in the occupation.
I envy the soldier who is able to see the injustice of this war from afar, and has the courage and conviction to take the stand against it. There will be those who criticize soldiers for being willing to weigh moral convictions against political ambition. What matters is making the stand. Whether you chose not to join the military in the first place, or you realized after joining that it fell short of the requisite levels of integrity, the moment you realize the truth is the moment to take a stand. My moment came with only three weeks of combat missions remaining during my one year in Iraq. Moral conviction has no timing.
Taking a stand
I informed my chain of command of my beliefs. I could tell from that first conversation that things were not going to go well. I told them that I believed our presence in Iraq was unlawful. I explained that I no longer believed in a policy of war and that I would file as a conscientious objector. Simply put, I could no longer in good conscience participate in a combat role against the Iraqi people.
Seconds after the words left my mouth, my life changed. Inside I had more peace than I had felt in over a year. I knew immediately that I had done the right thing. However, I was aggressively disarmed, confined, and shut off from contacting anyone, including family or an attorney.
I was illegally confined to a cot in an operations room, placed under 24 hour guard, and escorted to the bathroom before I was formally charged with refusal to follow an order two weeks later. I remained confined until I pled guilty (with little choice) less than a week after that. I was immediately sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to serve 30 days in a military prison. I was just released from the brig the other day and I'm now in the process of being "kicked out" with an "Other Than Honorable" discharge. I regret nothing.
After I told my command my beliefs, and once they realized they couldn't intimidate me and that I was serious, they decided that it was going to become an "information war".
I had many anti-war friends from MySpace and other online networks that got wind that I was being mistreated and it circulated around the world, literally overnight. Before I knew it, I was dragged into the First Sergeant's office and they began yelling and screaming about how their names were "all over the internet". They didn't try to deny what was being said about them-that I was being treated unfairly and that they refused to acknowledge my claim as a conscientious objector-they were simply mad about the exposure.
Military strikes back
The next day I was told that I had been "flagged" as an OPSEC (operational security) "concern". No reason given. They were hostile and consumed with the task of making "an example" out of me, and they were looking for ways to ruin my reputation and credibility.
They spent days typing up pages of fabricated "counseling statements" to retroactively discredit my military record. The fact that there were no prior record of statements made these accusations obviously fake, and they knew it. They "needed more".
They demanded repeatedly all of my Internet user names and pass words-MySpace, personal email, everything. All under the threat that "more charges" would be brought against me if I refused.
They wanted to read my emails, all my blogs, everything, in an attempt to find something. Anything they could use to make it look like I had been giving out classified information. They wanted to charge me and ruin my credibility as much as possible, and they desperately needed to be able to justify my illegal confinement.
Two weeks later, when they finally realized that they were not going to be able to charge me with "divulging intel", they finally charged me with a series of "not following orders". Not only did these include my refusal to continue combat missions, but ridiculous stuff like "not standing at parade rest" and "being late for work". You get the picture.
My command eventually offered to "chapter me out" if I would immediately plead guilty to everything and accept a summary court martial. My options were clear. I could play ball, spend 30 days in a brig, and get my life back. Or I could let them put me back on a fully confined restriction for the next two months, while they took every opportunity to make an example of me-to show everyone in the battalion, "this is what happens if you oppose the war."
I'll let them think they won, for now.
The truth will come out, and there is nothing they can do to hide it. The occupation is a disaster. I'm convinced that every day it continues that it makes America, and the Iraqis less safe.
Objecting to the war and standing up to the military was without question, one of the best decisions I have ever made. I made a stand that was the right one, and I have my freedom back as a bonus. Maybe ten years from now those of us resisting from within the military today will be seen as some of the first few to speak the truth and to follow up with action. Even now I have many to remind me that I'm not alone in my thinking, even a majority of Americans who know that all the pieces of this conflict simply don't add up.
Seek the truth. Make the stand.