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 biography, by Tyler Zabel, was posted to the IVAW website
I joined the Illinois National Guard when I was 17 years old, living in a very small town and still a junior in high school with just a simple signature from my father. At the time I was a very patriotic and nationalistic young man. I wanted to protect my country and defend my family from the "evil" terrorists that threatened our so-called freedom. I was also full of anger and pain, something many kids feel at that age. I was looking for an escape, an outlet for my rage and frustration, and a way to get ahead in life. The military promised me education, adventure, and excitement I knew I would never find on a college campus.
Basic training wasn't at all what I had thought it would be, as I callously screamed out brutal chants about slaughtering kids in schoolyards and laughing about the way napalm would stick to their skin. We must’ve screamed, “Kill!” hundreds and hundreds of times to get into our heads that this was our purpose as soldiers. But I played along, acting the part of the good soldier, nodding my head and doing what I was told, though the feeling in my gut told me something was wrong.
When I finished basic training I moved to Chicago in search of work and new opportunities, getting much more than I bargained for. I came across perspectives and views I had never seen before, learning so much more about my own country's history than I ever had in school. Eventually, I would meet up with Mercedes, a war survivor from El Salvador, another country my government had helped to ruthlessly oppress. Once I came to see war from a child's eyes, I slowly began to question some of the orders I was being given. After some time and introspection I decided to become a conscientious objector (CO), knowing that I could not kill in the name of American imperialism, or a mutant form of democracy, some ancient idea of nationalism, and definitely not for George fucking Bush and his oil junkie friends.
Resources on the CO process are scarce, so I started to do research on my own. I was immediately discouraged from applying for the process from the beginning. The chaplain-to-be, Lt. Todd, told me that I didn't even qualify for CO because my objection was not moral AND religious. The CO process is shrouded in secrecy in order to keep more soldiers from finding a more honorable way out than going AWOL. Thankfully, I had done my homework and had the support of the GI Rights Hotline, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service Committee, Courage to Resist, and the Center on Conscience and War. Then I was also lied to by my team leader, Sgt. Washington, after he gave me my first counseling statement on the CO process and I asked him if I could get a copy of the Army Regulations on CO that he had read to me so I could be better prepared. He told me the document was 'classified' and could not give me a copy. I later called him a liar after Aaron Hughes of IVAW sent me Army Regulation 600-43 in an email.
I started speaking out with the IVAW while I was going through the process, and the first three steps went somewhat smoothly, the interview with a chaplain was a go, the psychiatric evaluation was a go, and the interviewing officer recommended me for
discharge. About a week after I had put in my application my unit got official orders for a deployment to Afghanistan and I was told that it wouldn't affect me.
Then about a week before everyone was scheduled to leave they called me up and told me I would be deploying with them, even though for months beforehand when everyone else was training to leave I was not. I was shocked, but started packing my things, saying goodbye to my family, quitting my job, mentally preparing myself for whatever was ahead. Then my chain of command called me the day before everyone left and told me they had made a "paperwork error" which seems like a pretty big thing to err on if you ask me.
But nonetheless I was relieved. I had contacted Jan Schekowski (my congressional representative) multiple times about my case and never heard anything back from her office, though her help may have averted some of these issues. Though later, I did speak with Linda Englund of Military Families Speak Out and she contacted her office for me a bit and spoke with some people working there.
Then next month when I went to drill they give me orders to ship again, and I was slightly angry to say the very least. I decide to go AWOL because I was tired of their mind games. I knew what my conscience was telling me and had to follow it. They were calling me every day for a while, trying to get me to come back or talk to them. I had a policeman (who had formerly been in my unit) come to my dad's house where I left my car and harass my friends and I at the beginning of the AWOL so I got a little scared after that. I stopped working, in fear that they might find me, and refused to drive anywhere. I was constantly looking over my shoulder fearing I was being followed, knowing that any minute someone could kick down my door and haul me off to a brig in handcuffs.
Eventually, I decided that I could not live like this forever and I called my unit. They told me to come into drill the next week, and I did, assuming I would be arrested for refusing a deployment. Then they proceeded to tell me that they had never planned on sending me anywhere, which seemed to be another lie. Sadly, the sergeant that had told me I was going to be deployed had died of a strange heart condition and could not be contacted to back up my claim. So instead of detaining me, they demoted me, which was essentially a slap on the wrist for what I thought I was going to be punished for.
I didn't understand much of this while it was going on, but in retrospect it seems much clearer. They were doing their best to wear down my resolve and force me to quit. They didn't want me to come back from my AWOL because that would have made it easier for them. Me coming back meant more paperwork to fill out and, in their view, it tarnished the command’s macho image having one of theirs go CO. But I did come back, and a couple months later, after a nearly two yearlong battle, they granted me CO status in April 2009. I have yet to receive paperwork for my discharge, but my sergeant says it’s in the mail.
I'm going back to school without the help of the GI bill, though I am happy to take on the cost myself. Finally, I am writing a book about the experience and doing my best to relax, taking a small break before getting back into the world of activism and organizing.
This statement was published by Amnesty International USA, August 6, 2009.
Amnesty International today reiterated its view that US soldiers who refuse on genuine grounds of conscience to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan should be recognized as conscientious objectors under US law and should not face imprisonment.
One such case appears to be that of Victor Agosto, who yesterday received a 30-day prison sentence for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. Victor Agosto joined the army in 2005 and served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq; according to reports, his experience there and what he describes as "self education" about US foreign policy and international law convinced him that "the occupation [in Afghanistan] is immoral and unjust".
In the past few years, the organization has appealed for the release of a number of US soldiers who have been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing to join their units in Iraq or Afghanistan after developing moral objections to US military operations there.
Victor Agosto received a relatively light sentence after accepting a plea agreement. However, others have been dealt with more harshly, receiving sentences of up to 15 months' imprisonment. The maximum penalty could amount to several years.
Amnesty International recognizes that the military authorities need to have strict procedures when allowing serving military personnel to be relieved of duties. However, the organization believes that the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adequate provision should be made to respect such rights, even for serving soldiers.
US law recognizes the right to conscientious objection only on grounds of opposition to all war in any form. Thus, soldiers who object to serving in a particular war currently have no way of legally registering for exemption on this ground. Some have their applications for conscientious objection refused; others, knowing such applications to be futile, go "absent without leave".
Currently there are other soldiers who face imprisonment for their beliefs. For example, Travis Bishop is scheduled to be court--martialled at Fort Hood, Texas, on 14 August, for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Amnesty International has recognised as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection to the armed conflict. They included Camilo Mejía, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster, who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs and was sentenced the same year to 14 months' imprisonment. Another, Kevin Benderman, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of abuses he allegedly witnessed there.Agustin Aguayo was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the armed conflict in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialled and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
In addition, Amnesty International has appealed to the Canadian authorities not to deport US soldiers claiming conscientious objection to serving in the US military. Around 200 soldiers are reported to have fled to Canada, where some have sought refugee protection.
Amnesty International believes the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified.
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, either refuses to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these beliefs, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have first taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.
Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of any person to any country where he or she would face a substantial risk of becoming a prisoner of conscience.
This article, by Maya Schenwar, was posted toTruthOut, July 16, 2009.
Neglect, mistreatment and abuse are the norm for active-duty soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrown post-traumatic stress disorder into stark public light. As of the end of March, 346,393 US veterans were being treated for PTSD; 115,000 of those served in Iraq or Afghanistan. That number continues to grow rapidly.
However, PTSD symptoms don't always wait to emerge until soldiers return home. For active-duty soldiers like Airman Steven Flowers, stationed in Aviano, Italy, it can take years to receive even minimal care. And once treatment begins, the soldiers are often punished for revealing their problems.
Diagnosed with PTSD in 2007, Flowers receives only a 15-minute monthly session with a military psychiatrist - mostly to prescribe medications - and a brief monthly or bimonthly session with a psychologist. Since his diagnosis, Flowers has endured "constant harassment" within his unit, and incurs harsh punishment from his commanders for even the "slightest perceived inadequacies."
"Though I have had suicidal ideations, I am not considered a risk," Flowers told Truthout.
Flowers's case is not unique. Active-duty PTSD sufferers are subject to neglect and ridicule, according to Tim Huber, director of the Military Counseling Network.
"PTSD is a great scapegoat for the military to trot out when veterans face discrimination or have a difficult time securing jobs and making a new life in the civilian world, but while those troops are on active duty, they're supposed to simply 'soldier on' and get over it," Huber told Truthout.
This mentality leads many soldiers to conceal their symptoms for years. It also means that military leaders are resistant to signs of PTSD in the ranks. In fact, Huber considers Flowers's case lucky.
"I am actually impressed Flowers was able to receive a PTSD diagnosis," Huber said. "We work with many service members who can't even get that much recognition, and are instead simply criticized for being soft, and/or trying to get out."
The trend toward disregarding or silencing PTSD sufferers even extends to military psychiatrists, according to Chris Capps-Schubert, the Europe coordinator for Iraq Veterans Against the War, who is following Flowers's situation closely.
"In the summary of Flowers's case, his military psychologist said it's a difficult position for him as a doctor, because he has conflicting interests in his role as a medical provider and his role as a soldier," Capps-Schubert told Truthout.
Flowers was experiencing PTSD symptoms well before 2007, but says he was afraid of the consequences of seeking help.
Many soldiers suffer for long periods before coming forward with their symptoms; others speak out about their condition but are denied treatment.
Army Sgt. Selena Coppa was recently diagnosed with military sexual trauma, a form of PTSD resulting from sexual harassment, assault or rape, years after her symptoms began.
"I think that the lack of initial treatment has severely impacted my life," Coppa, who served in Iraq and is now stationed in Germany, told Truthout. "I was told by my therapist that my PTSD had gone from simple to complex as a result of the military environment and lack of real treatment. Military practitioners tend to be extremely unwilling to diagnose PTSD in active-duty soldiers, and thus make it more difficult for individuals to have access to treatment and care." Retention at All Costs Both Flowers and Coppa protested the military's neglect of their problems, but found little recourse for their grievances.
"I complained about what I felt was inadequate treatment, but was told there was simply no better treatment to offer me outside of the States, and they would not consider transferring me to the better treatment until I had already 'run the full course' with the less-effective treatment," Coppa said.
The military's reluctance to diagnose or treat PTSD is linked to its primary goal: retaining soldiers on the ground. Even if a soldier is only marginally able to perform, military authorities may make a strategic decision to delay diagnosis and treatment, which could lead to a discharge.
"For Flowers to be discharge-worthy, the military must feel it is better off without him," Huber said. "But there's a wrinkle. The military has to cultivate a culture of commitment. If it were easy to skip the enlistment contract and get out early, retention would plummet and America's ability to maintain the military status quo would vanish. That's why so many squeaky wheels don't get greased, and eventually crack and crumble.... I guess one could say brute retention is more important than mission readiness."
Soldiers diagnosed with psychological disorders may be reassigned to alternate duties, in place of receiving adequate treatment or a discharge. Flowers, for example, is now relegated to "meter maid" duty. He walks the Air Force base looking for parking violations, though he suffers from serious knee and back problems.
By the end of his daily nine-hour shift, he is in excruciating pain.
Coppa, who is now stationed in Germany, notes that her treatment - or lack thereof - was determined almost solely based on the "wishes of the command," not on her medical needs. Even after her diagnosis was recognized, she repeatedly met with resistance and indifference.
She also discovered that the military has startlingly few resources to deal with military sexual trauma.
"There are no domestic violence groups here in Germany, and no military sexual trauma groups," Coppa said. "They are ill-equipped to treat this form of PTSD in anything but a solo setting, which is not as helpful. Though they acknowledged I would benefit medically from a transfer to the States, one was refused."
Coppa's experience is widespread: support groups and alternative treatments are very rare. Typically, PTSD-diagnosed soldiers are prescribed medication at the outset, often with little explanation or accompanying talk therapy.
Drugs are seen as the quickest, most efficient route to retaining a soldier on duty, regardless of the consequences, according to Huber.
"The main strategy is to prescribe the problems away with pills, and as long as someone can remain upright under their own power and perform the base elements of their MOS [military occupation specialty], the military is adequately 'treating' the problem," Huber said. "If someone refuses to medicate, for fear of what they might do with live ammunition under the influence of three, four, five or more mind-altering drugs, they are simply written off as refusing the military's 'help' and not wanting to get better."
Recently, after a long fight, Steven Flowers was able to form a support group for PTSD sufferers in his unit. The group was created against the wishes of the military mental health staff, and Flowers's psychiatrist initially refused to consider the idea. Such groups are almost unheard of for soldiers on active duty.
For many service members with PTSD, the best they can hope for is the strength and luck to hold out until they return home.
"The help can be a little better after people get out and start seeing civilian psychologists, who care more about the individual then retaining a soldier who fills a slot in a unit," Capps-Schubert said.