Why I joined
Probably like most other young men and women who were in my situation, I joined primarily to get myself back on flat ground. A steady and secure job, travel, and the most glamorous perk of it...all that college money. I also come from a family line of military service and seemed to think that doing something such as serving my country would be a good way to carry on my family tradition as well as better myself as an individual.
My Recruiting Experience
When I first considered joining the military, I decided it might be best to check out what all branches had to offer. Growing up as a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, I naturally was drawn to the army via numerous violent video games. So that was kept in my mind. First I looked at the Air Force but was almost immediately turned down for a Minor In Posession charge from a few years before. Next was the Navy and it seemed that I could never get any straight answers or a guarantee of the job I wanted. Having completely overlooked the Marine recruiter's office, I found myself being welcomed in to the Army recruiting room. Much like searching for a used car, I went all the way down the line until I finally found what I was searching for. My recruiter was surprisingly a very honest man and I actually felt comfortable discussing things with him. I liked what he had to offer and that he was fair about everything, so I joined the US Army as a 19D Cavalry Scout.
My Basic Training Experience
In contrast to the friendliness and hospitality of the recruiting station, a few weeks later I found myself in the heat and sweat of a private in Fort Knox, KY. The transition was very difficult, as it is intended to be, but it almost seemed a bit excessive. In short time I almost no longer felt human. When we had begun marksmanship and weapons training, I began to think about what it was I was training to do. The recoil and noise of an M240 is very much a rush, but I began to consider the fact that the little green men way out in front of me are someday going to be real people. Human Beings. Seeing the targets fall after ripping a burst through them, I felt soft for a bit. But as a new recruit, looking to acheive something in life, I unfortunately decided to ignore my conscience and "soldier on."
My War Experience
Two months after completing OSUT and taking a month of leave, I found myself in an already-deployed unit in the middle of Baghdad. The first words to come from my Squadron Commander during an incoming brief were, "Welcome to Saber Squadron. Our sole purpose here is to seek out and kill the enemy."
Things really began to change for me when we moved to the Diyala province a few months later. It started to seem much more like war. Over time I began to attempt to rationalize the deaths of people from both sides of the fight. My only conclusion was that regardless of what "side" two men are on, they are both still men. Both still people...People who probably know nothing about each other except what has been told to them about one another. Despite the fact, fathers were killing fathers, sons were killing sons, and brothers were killing brothers. Perhaps the indoctrination and conditioning of Basic Training didn't take the full toll on my mind. I soon found myself in disgust for the uniform I was wearing and more importantly, what I was representing. In addition to that, I came to the reality of a few poor decisions made by my superiors which left good, and what I consider innocent people dead. Entire families ruined, never fully knowing what really happened to their fallen loved one. It was then that I accepted my conscience and began to weigh the value of life vs. the costs of war.
Despite the hardship I endured in sands of Iraq, I must say that my time there really taught me a lot about myself and what I really stand for. I feel that it is only foolish and crude for world super-powers to solve problems through a calculation of human lives and measurement of land and resources. It is now instilled into my mind, my conscience, that us people have a bigger and better purpose in this existance than trying to destroy it. We must better this existance and protect it. There is no such thing as an "enemy" who is another human. Disease, poverty, famine, pollution, corruption and power are our common enemies. And we can only work to defeat these enemies if we all work together towards the real greater good.
My convictions will always be what they are now. I am very proud of my accomplishment of being recognized as a conscientious objector. I know that I could have very easily just aborted the situation entirely and gone AWOL, consenting to that choice's repercussions. But the real sense of satisfaction comes from knowing that in the boots at the bottom of the barrel, I had the strength to stand tall in front of the tyrant that is the Army and convince it that I simply refuse to be a part of it anymore. All while using its own regulations to do so.