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 article, by Martin Fletcher, was published iun the London Times, October 9, 2009
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taliban.
Many feel that they are risking their lives -- and that colleagues have died -- for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.
"The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families," said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division's 2-87 Infantry Battalion.
"They feel they are risking their lives for progress that's hard to discern," said Captain Sam Rico, of the Division's 4-25 Field Artillery Battalion. "They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through." The chaplains said that they were speaking out because the men could not.
The base is not, it has to be said, obviously downcast, and many troops do not share the chaplains' assessment. The soldiers are, by nature and training, upbeat, driven by a strong sense of duty, and they do their jobs as best they can. Re-enlistment rates are surprisingly good for the 2-87, though poor for the 4-25. Several men approached by The Times, however, readily admitted that their morale had slumped.
"We're lost -- that's how I feel. I'm not exactly sure why we're here," said Specialist Raquime Mercer, 20, whose closest friend was shot dead by a renegade Afghan policeman last Friday. "I need a clear-cut purpose if I'm going to get hurt out here or if I'm going to die."
Sergeant Christopher Hughes, 37, from Detroit, has lost six colleagues and survived two roadside bombs. Asked if the mission was worthwhile, he replied: "If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don't."
The only soldiers who thought it was going well "work in an office, not on the ground." In his opinion "the whole country is going to s***."
The battalion's 1,500 soldiers are nine months in to a year-long deployment that has proved extraordinarily tough. Their goal was to secure the mountainous Wardak province and then to win the people's allegiance through development and good governance. They have, instead, found themselves locked in an increasingly vicious battle with the Taliban.
They have been targeted by at least 300 roadside bombs, about 180 of which have exploded. Nineteen men have been killed in action, with another committing suicide. About a hundred have been flown home with amputations, severe burns and other injuries likely to cause permanent disability, and many of those have not been replaced. More than two dozen mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been knocked out of action.
Living conditions are good -- abundant food, air-conditioned tents, hot water, free internet -- but most of the men are on their second, third or fourth tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, with barely a year between each. Staff Sergeant Erika Cheney, Airborne's mental health specialist, expressed concern about their mental state -- especially those in scattered outposts -- and believes that many have mild post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "They're tired, frustrated, scared. A lot of them are afraid to go out but will still go," she said.
Lieutenant Peter Hjelmstad, 2-87's Medical Platoon Leader, said sleeplessness and anger attacks were common.
A dozen men have been confined to desk jobs because they can no longer handle missions outside the base. One long-serving officer who has lost three friends this tour said he sometimes returned to his room at night and cried, or played war games on his laptop. "It's a release. It's a method of coping." He has nightmares and sleeps little, and it does not help that the base is frequently shaken by outgoing artillery fire. He was briefly overcome as he recalled how, when a lorry backfired during his most recent home leave, he grabbed his young son and dived between two parked cars.
The chaplains said soldiers were seeking their help in unprecedented numbers. "Everyone you meet is just down, and you meet them everywhere -- in the weight room, dining facility, getting mail," said Captain Rico. Even "hard men" were coming to their tent chapel and breaking down.
The men are frustrated by the lack of obvious purpose or progress. "The soldiers' biggest question is: what can we do to make this war stop. Catch one person? Assault one objective? Soldiers want definite answers, other than to stop the Taliban, because that almost seems impossible. It's hard to catch someone you can't see," said Specialist Mercer.
"It's a very frustrating mission," said Lieutenant Hjelmstad. "The average soldier sees a friend blown up and his instinct is to retaliate or believe it's for something [worthwhile], but it's not like other wars where your buddy died but they took the hill. There's no tangible reward for the sacrifice. It's hard to say Wardak is better than when we got here."
Captain Masengale, a soldier for 12 years before he became a chaplain, said: "We want to believe in a cause but we don't know what that cause is."
The soldiers are angry that colleagues are losing their lives while trying to help a population that will not help them. "You give them all the humanitarian assistance that they want and they're still going to lie to you. They'll tell you there's no Taliban anywhere in the area and as soon as you roll away, ten feet from their house, you get shot at again," said Specialist Eric Petty, from Georgia.
Captain Rico told of the disgust of a medic who was asked to treat an insurgent shortly after pulling a colleague's charred corpse from a bombed vehicle.
The soldiers complain that rules of engagement designed to minimise civilian casualties mean that they fight with one arm tied behind their backs. "They're a joke," said one. "You get shot at but can do nothing about it. You have to see the person with the weapon. It's not enough to know which house the shooting's coming from."
The soldiers joke that their Isaf arm badges stand not for International Security Assistance Force but "I Suck At Fighting" or "I Support Afghan Farmers."
To compound matters, soldiers are mainly being killed not in combat but on routine journeys, by roadside bombs planted by an invisible enemy. "That's very demoralising," said Captain Masengale.
The constant deployments are, meanwhile, playing havoc with the soldiers' private lives. "They're killing families," he said. "Divorces are skyrocketing. PTSD is off the scale. There have been hundreds of injuries that send soldiers home and affect families for the rest of their lives."
The chaplains said that many soldiers had lost their desire to help Afghanistan. "All they want to do is make it home alive and go back to their wives and children and visit the families who have lost husbands and fathers over here. It comes down to just surviving," said Captain Masengale.
"If we make it back with ten toes and ten fingers the mission is successful," Sergeant Hughes said.
"You carry on for the guys to your left or right," added Specialist Mercer.
The chaplains have themselves struggled to cope with so much distress. "We have to encourage them, strengthen them and send them out again. No one comes in and says, 'I've had a great day on a mission'. It's all pain," said Captain Masengale. "The only way we've been able to make it is having each other."
Lieutenant-Colonel Kimo Gallahue, 2-87's commanding officer, denied that his men were demoralised, and insisted they had achieved a great deal over the past nine months. A triathlete and former rugby player, he admitted pushing his men hard, but argued that taking the fight to the enemy was the best form of defence.
He said the security situation had worsened because the insurgents had chosen to fight in Wardak province, not abandon it. He said, however, that the situation would have been catastrophic without his men. They had managed to keep open the key Kabul-to-Kandahar highway which dissects Wardak, and prevent the province becoming a launch pad for attacks on the capital, which is barely 20 miles from its border. Above all, Colonel Gallahue argued that counter-insurgency -- winning the allegiance of the indigenous population through security, development and good governance -- was a long and laborious process that could not be completed in a year. "These 12 months have been, for me, laying the groundwork for future success," he said.
At morning service on Sunday, the two chaplains sought to boost the spirits of their flock with uplifting hymns, accompanied by video footage of beautiful lakes, oceans and rivers.
Captain Rico offered a particularly apposite reading from Corinthians: "We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
The following report, from Alan S & Elaine B, was published in Military Resistance, September 28, 2009
“There were Traveling Soldiers everywhere!” reported one of our Military Project outreach group of 9. [Traveling Soldier is a newsletter produced by Military Project, featuring information for and from troops opposed to the Imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: http://www.traveling-soldier.org/]
This was eyewitness news at its best since Elaine B had actually entered the armory, the first of any of us to have done so in more than 4 ½ years of outreaching to the site.
Our valiant correspondent had been invited minutes before (on two separate occasions) by friendly officers after inquiring about a drill schedule and in the process of obtaining the schedule (yes, we now know when to go for at least another year) saw the copies of Traveling Soldier inside the armory first hand:
“I decided to cross over the line, backed by my friend RM from the Military Project. We walked right through the line of camouflage and duffel bags, up the steps and into the building. Not a peep from anyone, in fact lots of smiles and hellos.”
“We asked where the ‘office’ was, and was pointed to the elevator, told to go upstairs and it was right there.
“So we went to the elevator, and off came 4 soldiers ready to go to the buses. They smiled, we smiled and got in the elevator.
“As we did this we noticed our handouts all over the place; on desks right outside the elevator on both floors, on the steps.
“Some of the plastic bags we wrapped them in were open, and ALL of the cookies and brownies were gone!
“We went to the office and said we were there to obtain a drill schedule. Amongst at least 6 soldiers there, one female NCO, who looked familiar to me, carrying a duffel bag on her back larger than she was, said ‘oh, here...’ she turned around, reached into a wire basket on top of the room divider, and whipped around holding out the latest drill schedule for the entire year!
“She smiled and said ‘here you go!’ We said thanks so much, we'll be back!”
All this took place after a very successful outreach on 9/18/09 that distributed 98 lit packets, hundreds of snacks, 20 “Sir! No Sir!” DVDs and, for the first time a handout of 34 “Querido Camilo” DVDs. [This is a DVD featuring Camilo E. Mejia, Iraq Veterans Against The War & Military Project, who was imprisoned by the Army for refusing to return to fight in Iraq after seeing the war was wrong.]
But no matter how joyful an outreach can be, these events always remind us of the serious nature of the work and responsibilities we have toward brave people undergoing enormous, unrelenting pressures: soldiers and their families.
No outreach is successful without personal contact and this one yielded its share.
We noticed a woman dropping off a soldier and in conversation learned her fears.
She was the soldier's mother, a hospital worker, and after telling us wars are all about money “and not knowing what we're doing over there,” cited continuing verbal abuse and harassment her son was undergoing from a superior officer who was denying him promotion, thereby keeping him a truck driver, an extremely dangerous MOS when deployed.
The fatigue of her ever present concern clearly lined her face, she sighed, “but what can I do?”
We gave her a package of the publications being handed out to the soldiers, pointing out that there was information about the GI Rights Hotline inside where legal assistance was available for soldiers with harassment complaints, and also let her know how to get in touch with us if further information or contact would be helpful.
Another soldier seemed needful of telling some of us he had been to Iraq twice and didn't want to go back, so he decided to switch to the Guard thinking he wouldn't get deployed. He was a bit naive when it came to that point!
But he said that he kept his head "low" when he was in Iraq for 2 tours, one of which was 15 months, and pretty much did what they call "search and avoid" missions.
He said he was very lucky, never got into a firefight, never saw anyone killed. But hated being there. He's attending school, and hopes to return to the Middle East as a civil engineer to help build.
How many stories are there at this armory and all the others visited and unvisited?
And endless amount one would think since soldiers are as much part of the human community as non-soldiers.
It's past time to find those stories and put them in print so troops will know their true friends and allies; those willing to march with them to mutual destiny.
Are we going back in October?
Since we have the dates, how couldn't we?
You are now watching: Episode Six - No Longer a Monster
"There are no more authoritative voices to speak out about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the people who have been there under fire," declares singer Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman, Rage Against the Machine), as he leads an intense celebration of three days of intense, painful, and liberating testimony. And while James Gilligan reveals the deep similarities between the "bad war" (Iraq) and the "good war" (Afghanistan), Jon Turner declares for all, "I am sorry for the things that I did, I am no longer the monster that I once was."
This paper, by Robin Long, was written while he was incarcerated at the Mirimar Brig and posted to the Blog Free Robin Long, 12 March, 2009.
N 2004, when military resister Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada, the Conservative government stepped in to his Refugee hearing and stated evidence challenging the legality of the War in Iraq can’t be used in his case. However, the U.N Handbook for Refugee’s and the Nuremburg Principles states: a soldier of an Army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. Said soldier also has the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention. By refusing to allow him- and by precedent ALL other claimants the right to use that argument, they closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
THE US invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal war of aggression. The US was not under attack, or the immanent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq, nor was the war approved by the UN Security Council. By taking the stance it did, the Canadian Government implicitly condoned the invasion & continuing occupation of Iraq. Is that what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have come to realize it a mistake, at best. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding on to the idea, and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and aiding in the imprisonment of morally strong men and women?
IN June 2007, Canada’s Parliament voted on a non- binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. That vote passed, and in agreement with that vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. In defiance of parliaments intent and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government, led by Prime Minister Steven Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley ignored the bill. The Government stated: All refugee claimants are given a fair chance to plead their case before the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters were unfair to other claimants. Further, they stated that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the US, and that the US has a fair and transparent justice system, and that we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
ON JULY 14th, 2008, in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community is, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn’t prove I would be treated harshly by the US military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the War in Iraq and Bush Administration policy. She predicted my punishment would be minimal, 30 days in the brig, perhaps. She then cleared the way for my deportation/extradition. She noted only10% of these cases go to Court Martial.
A MONTH later, I was tried in a Court Martial presided over by a judge, a Colonel in the US Army, who has President Bush in her chain-of-command. (She was later appointed by Bush to oversee trials at Guantanamo Bay, no doubt because of her political credentials.
THE ONLY aggravating evidence the Prosecution presented was a 6 minute video of me stating, among other things, that I believed my President lied to me. A political statement. The fact that this was found admissible in court for the charge of Desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The ONLY factors the Prosecution wanted shown in determining my sentence was the fact I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing my Commander-in-Chief.
IT SEEMS like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming that same President was a domestic enemy, who used any reason, and manufactured reasons, to invade and wreak havoc in Iraq.
THE JUDGE came back with 30 months- that’s two and a half years for not showing up for work that I believed to be morally objectionable, criminal, and its by far the harshest sentence given to a resister/deserter of the Iraq War.
I was saved from that by a plea bargain that got me 15 months. I STILL get a Dishonorable Discharge (DD). A DD will keep me from many fields of employment, from any Government position to the civilian world. It will make getting home loans all the harder. This is a FELONY CONVICTION- which will make it very hard, perhaps impossible to return to Canada to be with my young family. It is the worst grade of discharge there is.
PEOPLE THAT committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than me. 1st Infantry Division soldier Spec. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to only 7 months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder- 4 Iraqi men. I refused to participate in killings, he stood guard while others executed four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal on ’07. During his court martial Ramos admitted his guilt, stating: “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this.” Where is the justice? The system is neither fair nor impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don’t know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? Do you see how the military justice system works? – Condone killings with light sentences, but God forbid someone should call President Bush a liar and a war monger. A persons words and political opinion must be far more damaging to the good order of the military if they are anti war and critical of the President, than a soldiers criminal actions in an occupied foreign nation…..
PEOPLE HAVE used the argument that I signed a contract, quite often. I’d like to quote from a letter one o the Founders of our United States wrote to General Washington concerning his thoughts on contracts in April, 1793: “When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes destructive to the Party, the law of self-preservation overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of these principals I appeal to the true fountains of evidence: the head and heart of every rational honest man.”- Thomas Jefferson. For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals and ideals. Let alone the Iraqi’s, who have died in the hundreds of thousands ….
THE CONTRACT I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the LAWFUL orders of the President and those officers over me. I did not sign to be a strong arm for corporate interests or oil. The so called Liberation of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle by the people of Iraq, against forces, seen and unseen, that are trying to impose their will on them in a public war for private power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their OWN destiny, not the manufactured variety being offered here. True democracy is not found at the point of a gun. It rises up from within the mass of the people.
IT WASN’T about WMD’s, or we would have found some. It wasn’t about “regime change” or we would have been in Darfur, or Indonesia, or a dozen other countries. It wasn’t about 9/11 because they were from Saudi Arabia. It dosn’t say anywhere in my contract that I would be going to foreign soil, half way around the world, to invade a country that was of no threat to the United States. To risk my life, not in defending the people or Constitution of the United States but creating more enemies for them by being in an occupying force. Iraq, however unhappy under our former ally/client Hussein, was never a real threat. The destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground and awesome recruiting tool for Al Queda. It has cost the American people an enormous price. Im not talking just te trillion dollar financial burden, but the human cost of the war. The deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides. The invasion has made far more enemies for the United States and made the world a far more dangerous place.
THE ORDER to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that ANY treaty the US is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the US is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, “regime change” wasn’t one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent treat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which “allowed” the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
THE STAND that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family, an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen, and a Canadian partner with MS, left to raise our son while I’m locked in a brig for refusing to participate in a war Canada , in 2003, under a different Government, wouldn’t send troops to. Back then, they saw the holes in Bush’s “intelligence”. By deporting me, and not giving me a chance to leave willingly, I have been barred from entering Canada for at least 10 years. My flesh and blood is there!
The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum from injustices that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for, really?
THE DAYS of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and a different policy. Its now time for Mr Harper to change his view. He should listen to Parliament and the solid majority of his citizens!
Please support the movement to allow War Resisters to stay in Canada and pardon the ones in the US. I ask anyone who reads this: please! Help me return to Canada to be with my partner and son. I want only to live in peace and be in his life.
STOP THE WAR. Peace, love, light.
Incarcerated Prisoner of the US Military
PO BOX 452136, San Diego, CA, 92145
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted to zNet, July 16, 2009.
On May 1st at Fort Hood in central Texas, Specialist Victor Agosto wrote on a counseling statement, which is actually a punitive U.S. Army memo:
"There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect."
Ten days later, he refused to obey a direct order from his company commander to prepare to deploy and was issued a second counseling statement. On that one he wrote, "I will not obey any orders I deem to be immoral or illegal." Shortly thereafter, he told a reporter, "I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong. It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with."
Agosto had already served in Iraq for 13 months with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. Currently on active duty at Fort Hood, he admits, "It was in Iraq that I turned against the occupations. I started to feel very guilty. I watched contractors making obscene amounts of money. I found no evidence that the occupation was in any way helping the people of Iraq. I know I contributed to death and human suffering. It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."
Even though he was approaching the end of his military service, Agosto was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan under the stop-loss program that the Department of Defense uses to retain soldiers beyond the term of their contracts. At least 185,000 troops have been stop-lossed since September 11, 2001.
Agosto betrays no ambivalence about his willingness to face the consequences of his actions:
"Yes, I'm fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They're not responsive to people, they're responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won't fight their wars, the wars won't happen. I hope I'm setting an example for other soldiers."
Today, Agosto's remains a relatively isolated act in an all-volunteer military built to avoid the dissent that, in the Vietnam era, came to be associated with an army of draftees. However, it's an example that may, soon enough, have far greater meaning for an increasingly overstretched military plunging into an expanding Afghan War seemingly without end, even as its war in Iraq continues. Avoiding Battle
Writing on his blog from Baquba, Iraq, in September 2004, Specialist Jeff Englehart commented: "Three soldiers in our unit have been hurt in the last four days and the true amount of army-wide casualties leaving Iraq are unknown. The figures are much higher than what is reported. We get awards and medals that are supposed to make us feel proud about our wicked assignment..."
Over the years, in response to such feelings, some American soldiers have come up with ingenious ways to express defiance or dissent on our distant battlegrounds. These have been little noted in the mainstream media, and when they do surface, officials in the Pentagon or in Washington just brush them aside as "bad apple" incidents (the same explanation they tend to use when a war crime is exposed).
But in the stories of men and women who served in the occupation of Iraq, they often play a different role. In October 2007, for instance, I interviewed Corporal Phil Aliff, an Iraq War veteran, then based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. He recalled:
"During my stints in Iraq between August 2005 and July 2006, we probably ran 300 patrols. Most of the men in my platoon were just in from combat tours in Afghanistan and morale was incredibly low. Recurring hits by roadside bombs had demoralized us and we realized the only way we could avoid being blown up was to stop driving around all the time. So every other day we would find an open field and park, and call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapon caches in the fields and everything was going fine. All our enlisted people had grown disenchanted with the chain of command."
Aliff referred to this tactic as engaging in "search and avoid" missions, a sardonic expression recycled from the Vietnam War when soldiers were sent out on official "search and destroy" missions.
Sergeant Eli Wright, who served as a medic with the 1st Infantry Division in Ramadi from September 2003 through September 2004, had a similar story to tell me. "Oh yeah, we did search and avoid missions all the time. It was common for us to go set camp atop a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. We would use our binoculars to observe rather than sweep, but call in radio checks every hour to report on our sweeps."
According to Private First Class Clifton Hicks, who served in Iraq with the First Cavalry from October 2003, only six months after Baghdad was occupied by American troops, until July 2004, search and avoid missions began early and always had the backing of a senior non-commissioned officer or a staff sergeant. "Our platoon sergeant was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up," he explained. "We were at Camp Victory at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of the time we'd leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there's a big PX with a nice mess hall and a Burger King. We'd leave one guy at the Humvee to call in every hour, while the others stayed at the PX. We were just sick and tired of going out on these stupid patrols."
These understated acts of refusal were often survival strategies as well as gestures of dissent, as the troops were invariably undertrained and ill-equipped for the job of putting down an insurgency. Specialist Nathan Lewis, who was deployed to Iraq with the 214th Artillery Brigade from March 2002 through June 2003, experienced this firsthand. "We never received any training for much of what we were expected to do," he said when telling me of certain munitions catching fire while he and other soldiers were loading them onto trucks, "We were never trained on how to handle [them] the right way."
Sergeant Geoff Millard of the New York Army National Guard served at a Rear Operations Center with the 42nd Infantry Division from October 2004 through October 2005. Part of his duty entailed reporting "significant actions," or SIGACTS -- that is, attacks on U.S. forces. In an interview in 2007 he told me, "When I was there at least five companies never reported SIGACTS. I think 'search and avoids' have been going on for a long time. One of my buddies in Baghdad emails that nearly each day they pull into a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot at the cans." Millard told me of soldiers he still knows in Iraq who were still performing "search and avoid" missions in December 2008. Several other friends deploying or redeploying to Iraq soon assured him that they, too, planned to operate in search and avoid mode.
Corporal Bryan Casler was first deployed to Iraq with the Marines in 2003, at the time of the invasion. Posted to Afghanistan in 2004, he returned to Iraq for another tour of duty in 2005. He tells of other low-level versions of the tactic of avoidance: "There were times we would go to fix a radio that had been down for hours. It was purposeful so we did not have to deal with the bullshit from higher [ups]. In reality, we would go so we could just chill out, let the rest of the squad catch up on some rest as one stood guard. It's mutual and people start covering for each other. Everyone knows what the hell's going on."
Staff Sergeant Ronn Cantu, an infantryman who was deployed to Iraq from March 2004 to February 2005, and again from December 2006 to January 2008, said of some of the patrols he observed while there: "[They] wouldn't go up and down the streets like they were supposed to. They would just go to a friendly compound with the Iraqi police or the Kurdish Peshmerga [militia] and stay at their compound and drink tea until it was time to go back to the base."
As a Stryker armored combat vehicle commander in Iraq from September 2004 to September 2005, Sergeant Seth Manzel had figured out a way to fabricate on screen the movement of their patrol and so could run computerized versions of a search and avoid mission. As he explained: "Sometimes if they called us up to go and do something, we would swiftly send computer reports that we were headed in that direction. On the map we would manually place our icon to the target location and then move it back and forth to make it appear as though we were actually on the ground and patrolling. This was not an isolated case. Everyone did it. Everyone would go and hide somewhere from time to time."
Former Sergeant Josh Simpson, who served as a counter-intelligence agent in Iraq from October 2004 to October 2005, said he witnessed instances of faked movement. "I knew soldiers who learned to simulate vehicular movement on the computer screen, to create the impression of being on patrol," said Simpson. "There's no doubt that people did it." Saying "No" One at a Time "There was nothing to be done," Corporal Casler says of his time in Iraq, "no progress to be made there. Dissent starts as simple as saying this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?"
Sometimes such feelings have permeated entire units and soldiers in them have refused to follow orders en masse. One of the more dramatic of these incidents occurred in July 2007. The 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in Baghdad had lost many men in its 11 months of deployment. After a roadside bomb killed five more, its members held a meeting and agreed that it was no longer possible for them to function professionally. Concerned that their anger might actually touch off a massacre of Iraqi civilians, they staged a quiet revolt against their commanders instead.
Kelly Kennedy, a reporter with the Military Times embedded with Charlie Company prior to the revolt, described the shape the platoon members were in by that time: "[T]hey went right to mental health and they got sleeping medications, and they basically couldn't sleep and reacted poorly. And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon -- it was about 40 people -- said, 'We're not going to do it. We can't. We're not mentally there right now.'"
In response, the military broke up the platoon. Each individual involved was also "flagged" so he would not get a promotion or receive any award due.
To this day, troops in Iraq continue to be plagued by equipment and manpower shortages, and work long hours in an extreme climate. In addition, their stress levels are regularly raised by news from home of veterans returning to separations and divorces, and of a Veteran's Administration often ill-equipped and unwilling to provide appropriate physical and psychological care to veterans.
While no broad poll of troops has been conducted recently, a Zogby poll in February 2006 found that 72% of soldiers in Iraq felt the occupation should be ended within a year. My interviews with those recently back from Iraq indicate that levels of despair and disappointment are once again on the rise among troops who are beginning to realize, months after the Obama administration was ushered in, that hopes of an early withdrawal have evaporated.
With the Afghan War heating up and the Iraq War still far from over, even if fighting there is at far lower levels than at its sectarian heights in 2006 and 2007, with stress and strain on the military still on the rise, dissent and resistance are unlikely to abate. In addition to small numbers of outright public refusals to deploy or redeploy, troops are going absent without official leave (AWOL) between deployments, and actual desertions may once again be on the rise. Certainly, there's one strong indication that despair is indeed growing: the unprecedented numbers of soldiers who are committing suicide; the Army's official suicide count rose to 133 in 2008, up from 115 in 2007, itself a record since the Pentagon began keeping suicide statistics in 1980. At least 82 confirmed or suspected suicides have been reported thus far in 2009, a pace that indicates another grim record will be set; and suicide, though seldom thought of in that context, is also a form of refusal, an extreme, individual way of saying no, or simply no more.
According to Sergeant Simpson, here's how a feeling of discontent and opposition creeps up on you while you're on duty: The part of the war you're involved in, interrogating Iraqis in his case, "doesn't make any sense. You realize that the whole system is flawed and if that is flawed, then obviously the whole war is flawed. If the basic premise of the war is flawed, definitely the intelligence system that is supposed to lead us to victory is flawed. What that implies is that victory is not even a possibility."
After finishing his tour in Iraq, Simpson joined the Reserves because he believed it would grant him a two-year deferment from being called up, but he was called up anyway. In his own case, he says, "I thought to myself, I can't do this anymore. First of all, it's bad for me mentally because I'm doing something I loathe. Second, I'm participating in an organization that I wish to resist in every way I can.
"So," he says, "I just stopped showing up for drill, didn't call my unit, didn't give them any reason for it. I changed my telephone number and they did not have my address." Eventually, he reached the end date of his contract and managed to graduate from Evergreen State University in Washington. "I don't know if technically I'm still in the reserves," he told me. "I don't know what my situation is, but I don't really care either. If I go to jail, I go to jail. I'd rather go to jail than go to Iraq." Unready and Unwilling Reserves Sergeant Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion -- the same battalion as Agosto, who served north of the Iraqi capital -- recently went AWOL from his station at Fort Hood, Texas, when his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on moral grounds.
On his blog, he puts his position this way: "I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation's power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time... and I am prepared to live with that.... My father said, 'Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you'll still be shaving the same face.' If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don't think I would have been able to look into another mirror again."
I spoke with him briefly after he turned himself in at his base in early June. He said he'd chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal, which had inspired him, and wanted to be present at his post to accept the consequences of his actions. He, too, hoped others might follow his lead. (He and Agosto, now in similar situations, have become friends.)
Agosto, whose hope has been to set an example of resistance for other soldiers, sees Bishop's refusal to deploy to Afghanistan as a personal success and says, "I already feel vindicated for what I'm doing by his actions. It's nice to see some immediate results."
His actions, he's convinced, have affected the way his fellow soldiers are now looking at the war in Afghanistan. "The topic has come up a lot in conversation, with soldiers on base now asking, 'What are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are we there?' People feel compelled to bring this up when I'm around. Even the ones that disagree with me say it's great what I'm doing, and that I'm doing what a lot of them don't have the courage to do. If anything, the people I work with have now been treating me better than ever."
On May 27th, rejecting an Article 15 -- a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- Agosto demanded to be court-martialed.
According to Agosto, the Army has now begun the court martial process, but has not yet set a trial date. Bishop, too, awaits a possible court martial.
On June 1st, a day when four U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, Agosto told me in a phone call from Fort Hood, "I haven't had to disobey any orders lately. A sergeant asked me if it'd be okay if I had to follow orders, and I said no, and they didn't force it."
Agosto and Bishop are hardly alone. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80% increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion rates jumped by 42% from 2006 to 2007 alone.
U.S. Army Specialist André Shepherd joined the Army on January 27, 2004. He was trained in Apache helicopter repair and sent first to Germany, then was stationed in Iraq from November 2004 to February 2005, before being based again in Germany. Shepherd went AWOL in southern Germany in April 2007 and lived underground until applying for asylum there in November 2008, making him the first Iraq veteran to apply for refugee status in Europe.
He, too, has refused further military service because he feels morally opposed to the occupation of Iraq. While he awaits word from the German government and is still technically AWOL, Shepherd is being supported by Courage to Resist, a group based in Oakland, California, which actively assists soldiers who refuse to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.
A counselor and administrative associate at that organization, Adam Szyper-Seibert, points out that "in recent months there has been a dramatic rise of nearly 200% in the number of soldiers that have contacted Courage to Resist." Szyper-Seibert suspects this may reflect the decision of the Obama administration to dramatically increase efforts, troop strength, and resources in Afghanistan. "We are actively supporting over 50 military resisters like Victor Agosto," Szyper-Seibert says. "They are all over the world, including André Shepherd in Germany and several people in Canada. We are getting five or six calls a week just about the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] recall alone."
The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty followed by four years in the IRR, though variations on this pattern exist. Ready Reserve members live civilian lives and are not paid by the military, but they are required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, and building families.
At any point, however, a member of the Ready Reserve can be recalled to active duty. This policy has led to the involuntary reactivation of tens of thousands of troops to fight the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Jack C. Stultz, the Chief of the U.S. Army Reserve and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, told Congress on March 3rd that, since September 11, 2001, the Army has mobilized about 28,000 from the Reserves. There have been 3,724 Marines involuntarily recalled and mobilized during that same period, according to Major Steven O'Connor, a Marine Corps spokesman. (According to Major O'Connor, as of May 2009, the Marines are no longer recalling individuals from the IRR.)
Ironically, under a new commander-in-chief whom many voters believed to be anti-war, the Army is continuing its Individual Ready Reserve recalls. "The IRR recall has not seen any change since Obama became president," Sarah Lazare, the project coordinator for Courage to Resist, says. "It's difficult to predict what the Obama administration's policy will be in the future regarding the IRR, but definitely they haven't made any moves to stop this practice."
Needing boots on the ground, according to Lazare, the military continues to fall back on the Ready Reserve system to fill the gaps: "Since these are experienced troops, many of them have already served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan." Lazare adds, "When Obama announced his Afghanistan surge, we got a huge wave of calls from soldiers saying they didn't want to be reactivated and to please help them not go." The Future of Military Dissent
Right now, acts of dissent, refusal, and resistance in the all-volunteer military remain small-scale and scattered. Ranging from the extreme private act of suicide to avoidance of duty to actual refusal of duty, they continue to consist largely of individual acts. Present-day G.I. resistance to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot begin to be compared with the extensive resistance movement that helped end the Vietnam War and brought an army of draftees to the point of near mutiny in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, the ongoing dissent that does exist in the U.S. military, however fragmented and overlooked at the moment, should not be discounted.
he Iraq War boils on at still dangerous levels of violence, while the war in Afghanistan (and across the border in Pakistan) only grows, as does the U.S. commitment to both. It's already clear that even an all-volunteer military isn't immune to dissent. If violence in either or both occupations escalates, if the Pentagon struggles to add more boots on the ground, if the stresses and strains on the military, involving endless redeployments to combat zones, increase rather than lessen, then the acts of Agosto, Bishop, and Shepherd may turn out to be pathbreaking ones in a world of dissent yet to be experienced and explored. Add in dissatisfaction and discontent at home if, in the coming years, American treasure continues to be poured into an Afghan quagmire, and real support for a G.I. resistance movement may surface. If so, then the early pioneers in methods of dissent within the military will have laid the groundwork for a movement.
"If we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path, they must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans." So said First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of the U.S. Army, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq. (He finally had the military charges against him dropped by the Justice Department.) The future of any such movement in the military is now unknowable, but keep your eyes open. History, even military history, holds its own surprises.
The Coffee Strong GI Coffeehouse is asking GIs stationed at Ft. Lewis to submit nominations for the worst Lt. at Ft. Lewis. To nominate your Lt., or read existing nominations, Click Here. On July 10, the following was posted
I kid you not, My first Lt. would use a gps and a plugger and still couldn't get the platoon from point A to point B.
We would do night ops and end up driving around the desert until the sun came up because of his incompetence.
My driver told me he'd seen the Lt. use a compass inside the Humvee. I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.
Why is it that the military thinks a college degree qualifies someone to be an officer?
You are now watching: Episode One: For Those Who Would Judge Me
March 13, 2008: As hundreds of veterans and over a thousand supporters gather just outside Washington, DC for three days of testimony, the pressure is high and questions intense. How is the testimony verified? What will people think of veterans and soldiers for being here? What good will this do? Without hesitation Geoff Millard (US Army National Guard), Steve Mortillo (US Army), and Adam Kokesh (US Marine Corps) respond to “those who would judge me” with a clear purpose and their chilling stories.
Comment, debate, add your testimony, and help this series and the voices of veterans spark a new, sorely needed discussion about the continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
David Zeiger, Displaced Films
Statement from Displaced Films and Northern Light Productions
Where’s the debate?
Are we watching passively while Barack Obama carries out the same policies as George W. Bush?
When an American bombing raid this May killed over two hundred civilians in a village in Afghanistan, it was met with a deafening silence. When Obama’s promised “withdrawal” from Iraq leaves 130,000 troops there for at least two more years and 50,000 permanently, it’s hailed as an end to the occupation. And who is demanding to know just what the mission really is when 30,000 more troops are sent to Afghanistan? Where’s the debate?
In March of 2008, two hundred and fifty veterans and active duty soldiers marked the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by gathering in Washington, DC, to testify from their own experience about the nature of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was chilling, horrifying, and challenging for all who witnessed it. Against tremendous odds, they brought the voices of the veterans themselves into the debate. That was then.
This is now. Today, we present to you This is Where We Take Our Stand, the inside story of those three days and the courageous men and women who testified. And we present this story today, told in six episodes, because we believe it is as relevant now as it was one year ago. Maybe more.
Here is our challenge to you: Watch the series; spread it far and wide; and ask yourself is this about the past, or the present and future. Then add your voice.
If you are a veteran or active duty, present your own testimony. If you are not, but you are still a living, breathing member of the human race, then do whatever you can to join and fan the flames of debate.