Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This statement, by Steve Yoczk, was posted to Courage to Resist, June 5, 2009
I am a former military servicemember who went AWOL rather than deploy to Iraq. This is the story of why I refused to fight.
I joined the Coast Guard Reserve at age 17 in May 2002 and served uneventfully until June 2005. I decided to switch to the Regular Army for the handful of obvious and universal reasons: money, lack of education, desire for good working skill. More than that, though, I wanted to be a part of something I felt was just and right, with the spirit of the Second World War and the beginning months of the Vietnam conflict in my head. I believed the Army to be an institution that stressed “think before you shoot”. I was told I would be training for communications with the 25 Foxtrot program, or Network Switching Systems Operator/Maintainer.
I was told many things by a recruiter I trusted not to lie to me since we both knew I’d already been in the service several years.
I soon realized my serious mistake when I arrived at the Warrior Transition Course (WTC) at Fort Knox, a prior-service training course. I spoke to one person who had tried to get into the Navy SEALs, and was now trying to become a Ranger. I asked him why, and his response was “I just want to kill Hadjis, man!”, with excitement in his voice. Others were re-signing to the military because of monetary reasons, mainly. Extra combat pay, separation from family pay, hazardous duty pay, and who knows how many other possibilities; men and women putting their lives on the line to help ease the shackles of our monetary system.
Probably the defining moment for me realizing I had made the wrong decision was our platoon commander, a Sergeant First Class, instructing us on tactics in movement and engaging the enemy. Near the end of the session, he spoke of prisoners, and explained “It’s just better to double tap them (double tap meaning shooting twice to kill) and walk away than to haul them back to have to deal with all the paperwork. Just please don’t do it in front of a reporter”. This was laughed at by the others, but I just stood in awe. This man was a combat veteran, with ranger and Special Forces tabs – what I used to think of as America’s Strongest and Brightest – explaining these things in the same everyday fashion you explain how to work a copy machine.
I finished the course and moved on to Fort Gordon, thinking things might change once I began training in my assigned course. I was placed in a prior service unit, and spoke with several veterans each day that had been deployed numerous times. Again I was schooled on the many benefits of being deployed in war, and more of the exact same reasons I heard at Fort Knox were repeated again by different people.
Halfway into the 20 week training course I realized the job I had signed up for no longer existed in the Army due to obsolete equipment. “Jobless” individuals were being trained anyway, and would be deployed anyway. This meant I would be doing any number of things from convoy escort to prisoner transport. I realized this would not be the last word that the Army would go back on, and knew that I had to get out before my life made a serious downturn if not a sudden end.
I began resisting in any way I could think of, after learning that the CO application process was rigged and that I would just draw unwanted attention on myself. I had spoken to several soldiers who had tried to apply, and their application was either thrown out, reasoned away with pro-Army talk, or they were put on hold for “review” while the soldier was deployed anyway. I tried gaining weight, I failed over 50 Physical Training (PT) tests (knowing the regulation was three failures and you went before the Commanding Officer for a “motivation check”, which never came), I would regularly disappear from duty during the day, and miss formations. On and on and on this went. After about eight months, I learned that the one thing keeping me on base, the PT Test, would have a regulation change for prior service members. This meant that the PT Test was no longer a requirement for graduation, and that I would soon be attached to a unit bound for Iraq.
My depression and desperation increased at this point, and I believed I had absolutely no other way out, so I attempted suicide. After a week of “therapy”, I was deemed still fit for duty, and so was returned to my unit and continued on my track to Iraq.
I learned of a friend who had gone to Canada shortly after this, and began speaking to him and members of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. I felt this was my last possible chance to avoid a seriously life changing event, and went to Canada in November of 2006.
I lived there until April of 2009, and turned myself in. I was discharged a week and a half later because I fell under the criteria for a quick discharge, since I never officially graduated my AIT Class.
I’m now living in the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Washington DC House, and am looking forward to sharing my story with the hopes that others who might be questioning their commitment like I did, will know that there is no shame in getting out before you’re sent to hell. I believe the most important aspect of the anti-war movement is to take the boots off the ground – no soldiers, no war. If there was a collective “hell no” from the entire service, they would not be able to lock up each and every one of them – war’s over.
What’s happened so far and will probably continue to happen for some time is horrible, but the solution mentioned above is quite simple. The problem will be for those individuals who are perfectly capable of doing this thing to remove their mind from what I call the “consumer’s distraction complex” that we’ve all been programmed with, take a good, honest and empathetic look at what they are contributing to, and see the humanity in actions of resistance to these things. It could be over that quick.
This article, "G2: Men on a mission: In a rundown suburb of Washington DC, a group of anti-Iraq war protesters has set up home. But they are no ordinary activists - they are all veterans of the conflict. Daniel Nasaw talks to them", by Daniel Nasaw, was published in The Guardian (London), August 20, 2008
The mock soldier's grave in the front yard, along with the bottles of urine in the refrigerator and the anti-war posters festooning the first floor, tell visitors this is not just another group house for politically minded Washington DC twentysomethings.
The bottles, says Adam Kokesh, a tattooed, muscular former US marine sergeant and prominent member of a community of virulently anti-war Iraq veterans based in the house, are to be tested for depleted uranium, a munitions component thought to be harmful to soldiers exposed to it.
The house, in a rundown neighbourhood of the US capital, is headquarters for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a group with more than 1,200 members across the country and on military duty in Iraq. It is also a flophouse for visiting and needy veterans, a "frat-house on steroids" in the words of one resident, and a friendly space where veterans can commune with like-minded comrades.
On a recent Sunday evening, I joined Kokesh, several other Iraq veterans, and a crew of other anti-war activists for a cook-out at the vets' house. They talked politics, shared war stories, drank beer and wine. Then, and over several other meetings, the members told me about the domestic situations peculiar to the group: the bottles of urine stored in the refrigerator, a member's inordinate rage at malfunctioning computer equipment, and a shared sense of purpose and experience that mitigates and outweighs the strife.
The members of the IVAW house are the newest incarnation of a long tradition of anti-war activism by US military veterans. They are the tattooed, web-savvy descendents of the Spanish-American war veterans who decried US torture of Filipino rebels at the turn of the 20th century, and the shaggy-haired Vietnam vets who tossed away their medals in protest. They offer legitimacy to the anti-war movement, show ing that peace activists aren't necessarily anti-military or motivated by knee-jerk opposition to George Bush. Some were against the war from the start, but had already joined up and hoped they could speed US involvement in Iraq to an end. Others were afraid to resist deployment or were unaware how to do so.
"The vet groups are our street cred," a California-based anti-war activist tells me at the group's barbecue. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of feminist anti-war group Code Pink, says the veterans' group appeals to the American glorification of the military, even within the anti-war movement. "People who have been part of a war that I consider immoral and illegal still have more legitimacy than people who were against the war from the very beginning and refused to fight in it," she explains, sitting in the vets' living room while her college-age cohorts chat with the veterans and eat hamburgers and sausages. "They command more of a sense of authority and more of a sense of understanding of what's actually happening on the ground. Generals who come out against the war are seen as more important even than Congress members who are against the war."
The house has become a centre of Washington anti-war activism, but it serves a different function for the five men who live there. "When you're coming out of the military, the one thing that you lose bigger than anything else is the camaraderie of your unit," says 27-year-old Geoff Millard in between bites of sausage and sips of root beer. "You've got family, you've got friends, but you don't have the people who have been there, and that's a huge thing. In this community we have that, whether they want to live here, or they want to stay a weekend, or they just want to come over and watch some TV for a little while. It's just a space for veterans."
A native of Buffalo, New York, Millard joined the National Guard when he was 17. After the 9/11 attacks, he was sent to New York City to search incoming vehicles for bombs. When the Bush administration began pushing for war with Iraq, Millard didn't want to go.
"Our military is trained to kill people and we're the bullies," he says. "I didn't sign up in the military to be a bully. I signed up to protect people from bullies. We started to talk about Iraq, and Iraq just didn't pass the smell test." In winter 2003, he marched with a group of Vietnam vets in a massive New York anti-war protest. He thought briefly about fleeing to Canada, but was afraid to desert. "I thought that if I resisted they would put me in jail," he says. "So I went to Iraq". He spent a year as an administrative aide to a general there in 2004.
Now a web journalist, Millard joined IVAW in December 2005, and co-founded the Wash ington chapter the following autumn. He and Kokesh had lived together in a small apartment, but wanted space for other like-minded veterans. The men moved into the Washington house in December.
The 50-member IVAW chapter, of which Millard is president, sub-lets the lower level, which was converted into comfortable office space decorated with anti-war posters. Considering it is occupied by a group of twentysomething bachelors, the house is remarkably tidy. The men share cleaning duties, dividing up chores on Sundays so the house will be clean for vets attending the weekly support group and visitors to their potluck dinner. "Most of us were NCOs in the military, so we're good at telling people to clean up shit," Kokesh explains.
Some of the men have jobs or are attending university, while others spend their days writing anti-war literature, working out, or travelling across the region to speak to anti-war groups, recruit other veterans and help organise new chapters. The attic and basement hold "berths" for dozens of visitors, and 43 guests bunked in the house during a March anti-war event.
The members don't merely provide food, drink and company. At the weekly "home-front battle buddies" support group in the basement of the house, the veterans talk over their war experiences, hash out problems adjusting to civilian life and struggles with the US veterans administration, and even discuss relationship troubles. The men, a rotating group of about five who live in the house, plus regular visitors from outside Washington, can also spend hours a day strategising and talking politics. Their tactics include "counter-recruitment" of young people sought by the military and sit-in style protests at government buildings.
Life in a house full of jittery veterans can be trying, they acknowledge. Routine domestic disagreements explode into rage. Many of them have trouble sleeping, and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "The PTSD is so thick in the air you can cut it with a knife," one tells me. They say they have all learned to recognise when one of their housemates is in the grip of an episode (symptoms differ in each, they say, with some becoming depressed and angry, others anxious, others restless).
Millard recalls that an uncooperative internet modem sent him into a fury, and when he tried to discuss the issue with his housemates, he could only yell and curse. He eventually threw the equipment across the room. "I had been seeing a girl for about two weeks at the time, and she was here, and that ended that relationship," he tells me, sitting in his book-lined den upstairs. But his housemates were more accommodating: "They let me flare up like that and they gave me that space, and then as I naturally came down of that, I was able to say 'I'm sorry, I was not thinking naturally.'"
Kokesh, a Santa Fe, New Mexico native, is working toward a master's degree in political management at George Washington University, and supports himself with modest speaking fees from addressing student and anti-war groups. He also spends more than an hour a day working out in a garage where he keeps weights and a computer. With his muscles, tattoos, shaved head, goatee and piercing eyes, Kokesh is an intimidating presence. A fluent, self-taught Arabic speaker, he served in a civil affairs unit in Iraq and was decorated for providing humanitarian aid to civilians during firefights.
While some vets prepare the food at a cookout, Kokesh works with other veterans and supporters in the basement on a speech he is planning to give at an upcoming rally. Though anti-war, Kokesh isn't a liberal. He describes himself as a libertarian, and supported Ron Paul in his bid for the US presidency.
The workshop devolves briefly into an impromptu political strategy session, as Kokesh compares the efficacy of what he calls "direct action" with "civil resistance", techniques such as blocking a major city intersections to call attention to their anti-war message. "If I have a conversation with a kid in high school and he decides he's not going to join the military, that's a direct action," he says. "A war resister inside the military is both. But that doesn't necessarily make it more effective. I would rather have 1,000 high-school students who would otherwise not join, than one person within the military resist. That's taking 1,000 bodies out of the system as opposed to taking one out."
Other participants in the discussion note the news value of a high-profile soldier refusing to redeploy to Iraq. The IVAW members who live in the house and visit it appreciate sharing space with people who have seen, first hand, the results of the US adventure in Iraq and who know how to manage war-traumatised veterans.
"I've to a certain extent found solace in it," says Nick Morgan, a bearded 24-year-old who was a combat engineer in Iraq. "I'm kind of an anxious person, I'm kind of antsy. I have a lot of quirks that make people uncomfortable. But being around cats like this, it's second nature. Nobody really notices it."
But it is their shared devotion to ending the war in Iraq and agitating for veterans' benefits and reparations for Iraqis that ultimately holds the house together, even when tensions are running high. "There's a certain environment that we're able to create here that is distinctly for veterans who have the freedom of mind to see that they've been lied to, that essentially a certain element of their service was for nothing," Kokesh tells me emphatically. "An environment that empowers them to live out their convictions".
The DC and Fort Meade Chapters of Iraq Veterans Against the War doing GI outreach in support of Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan around Fort Meade on February 16th, 2008. Featuring Adam Kokesh, Geoff Millard, Marie Combs, Nick Morgan, and soon to be IVAW member Ray Curry.