This interview was originally published on the Law is Cool blog, August 14, 2008
Rich Droste: My name is Richard Drew Droste, the second. I’m age 22. I’ve lived in Canada since March 7th
Law is Cool: What brings you to Canada?
Rich Droste: It’s a long, long. long journey and a long and winding and road that led me to Canada. I joined the army at the age of 17 for many reasons — mostly to escape the lifestyle I was living, the promise of education, the pursuit of something more grand than what I was living. I was homeless at the time, living in my car for the previous two years, still trying to get my own education and just maintain a working lifestyle. They provided me with so many benefits of what I now know is half-truths obviously but didn’t at the time. And at the age of 17, I was able to make that one decision to give my life for the country that I barely knew anything about but you’re not old to make any other adult decision in the US at that age, right? So I joined as a combat engineer time at this time, believing that there was this huge terrorist threat on our nation, believing that America could not wrong type mentality, you know, I followed CNN and Fox ‘News’ pretty much for my whole life and, you know, if you don’t look for an outside source you’re not going to find it. And if you’re happy in your bubble why burst it, right? So the further I get into the military I become more educated with what’s really going on all across the world and not just in Iraq or just Afghanistan but also the human trafficking and prostitution rings around military institutions across the world. The fact that we’re standing up for human rights and freedom to me and seeing these things happen in Korea while I was stationed there was my first big question against the military and I basically got told to shut and try not to fix anything that your pay grade can’t handle, you know. They say they don’t support it if you ask them and they’ll be quoted saying they don’t support it but during the day there’s regulations and only US soldiers and citizens can go inside these clubs and these bars that contain all this human trafficking and prostitution. All of their money for those rings are coming from soldiers’ pockets. It shows that there may not be verbal support but there’s definitely financial support, right? And that was my first big problem. Around my second year in the military I became a Conscientious Objector the war in Iraq because of the illegalities, the unhumane activities that are happening there. The just unusual behavior — the way we treat men, the way we treat women.
Law is Cool: What does it mean to be a Conscientious Objector for those of us who don’t know?
Rich Droste: Within the military, there’s a system so if you want to be a non-combatant, this is supposed to be a legal thing. You can file this Conscientious Objector packet which states that you are against the dualities of the war that the efforts working for and then you can work as a noncombatant inside the US military such as a cook, a medic, an X-ray technician, whatever it may be, there’s numerous jobs and there supposed to supply you with that. Well around a year after I filled out that paperwork, it was mysteriously lost. And I was told this with a wink from the person I was asking. So it just goes to show they weren’t trying to put that much effort into helping me with this Conscientious Objector packet. Around my third year, six month, which meant I only had about six months left on my original contract, I found out I was getting stop-lossed and sent to Iraq. By this time I had already stated I was an objector and I would have no part in this war, if anything I would like to end this war — you know what I mean — I’m not going to fight in it. And they said you go to this war, you go jail, your only other option is to re-enlist , signing on a new contract, and get a non-combatant job, right? So those are my options. I decide through friends and people that were looking out for me honestly that had no role over what happens to me they advised me to re-enlist for a different job and I did. I thought it was a smart thing to do. So I re-enlist to be a computer networker, well a systems operator analyst, it’s all computer networking, IP configuration, connecting servers, routers and such.
Law is Cool: What was your reason for choosing that kind of a job?
Rich Droste: It was — it was mostly just maintaining networks for the generals and superiors that are going over there anyway. Which I didn’t know when I signed up for the job. The reason I signed up for the job was because I thought it was a communication job. So I could communicate.
Law is Cool: But you probably wouldn’t be in the front lines with something like that?
Rich Droste: Absolutely. And by my understanding, I wouldn’t be participating in any combatant side of the military. Well my last week of training, I’m about to graduate this new course, and I find out that I’m going to 4th RTB which stands for Ranger Training Battalion. So not only am I training combatants, I’m training elite combatants to go fight in this war and I told them I wouldn’t have any part of it. So there I got to try to fill out another Conscientious Objector packet. It’s denied because I don’t meet the quote-unquote “criteria.” I ask them what the criteria is, they can’t give me an answer. Then I go to mental health and explain my reasoning behind all this. They try to put me on sleeping aids and anti-depressants saying I’ll get over it, I just need rest, and to lighten up. And I was told to “suck it up and drive on.” And that was their cure-all answer for that. And then I went to a chaplain which is a preacher, a priest, and he finds your religious denomination. At this time, I was still very much agnostic which is I believe in a higher power but I think there’s too much out there for the human mind to comprehend really. And I’m talking to him and he tried to explain to me that God justified this war and wouldn’t harm us or call us sinners for our wrong doings to the Iraqi people — civilian and terrorist alike because humans are humans, regardless of their decisions, right? And uh, so that’s what he tried to convince me. I talked to him numerous occasions and I couldn’t get anything out of him or any help. After I went up and down the chain of command and tried to get this non-combatant job and after so much so much dedication I actually went AWOL four days after my original ETS date — so I fulfilled my original contract and I came to Canada.
Law is Cool: Now why Canada? Why not Mexico?
Rich Droste: There we go, yeah. That’s a great question and that’s something I wish more potential resisters would know is when I was going through this I was looking for other instances where soldiers experienced similar grounds, same thing that happened to me, because I knew it was happening all across the military . So I looked up online. What better source, right? So I find there’s all these soldiers and there’s so many thousands living in the States and there was anywhere from 200 to 500 living in Canada. I found that there was about 50 that applied for refugee status in Canada. And the things that they were doing, the political aspects, the education . . . I didn’t come here to hide. I came here very well knowing that I could be deported and sentenced in the United States for my ‘wrong doing’ and that’s — I’m fine with that. I accept that. I came here to educate the people. I came here to open people’s views and even if they don’t understand it, even if they disagree, at least they’re not ignorant to the matter.