Like tens of thousands of other troops, Army Communications Specialist Chris Capps recently went AWOL. After returning from a full tour of duty in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006, Chris left the 440th Signal Battalion in Darmstadt, Germany this March in order to refuse immediate deployment to Afghanistan. The New Jersey native surrendered to military authorities at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on May 8 and was discharged from the Army on May 11. Chris now lives with his wife in Germany. This is his story.
Courage to Resist. June 20, 2007
My name is Chris Capps. I joined the Army Reserves in 2004 looking to earn money for college and basically to become independent. I was living with my parents in New Jersey.
I did well in basic training. I had the highest PT (physical training) score, and I was an honor graduate in AIT (Advanced Infantry Training). Figuring I did well in basic and AIT, I signed up to go active duty.
Life in the military is exactly as it soundslife in the military. I was at the bottom of an extremely incompetent authoritarian hierarchy. I was an outstanding soldier by every measurable aspect, so in many ways I was treated better then my peers. But I never really adopted the Army mentality.
In September 2005 I was assigned to the 440th Signal Battalion shortly before they deployed to Iraq. I remember a lot of the soldiers being pretty stressed over the upcoming deployment. After a month and half of training and getting the required gear, I arrived at Camp Victory in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day 2005.
They were having a giant turkey that day in the DFAC (cafeteria). Some other things they had in the DFAC were made to order. There were Philly cheese steaks, a good salad bar, a juice bar, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, and food better then anything I had ever seen before. There was a Pizza Hut, a giant PX store, a Subway, an Arby’s, a Greens Beans, and a Popeye’s Chicken too.
When you’re expecting a combat zone and you walk into something like this you have to wonder “What the hell is going on here?” It was surreal sitting there eating a Subway sandwich, listening to elevator music, and hearing explosions so loud they could knock your drink right off the table, and gunfire in the distance.
KBR ran everything on Camp Victory. I eventually figured out the deal. I saw the Filipino and Pakistani contractors laboring hard while the American KBR employees drove around in brand new cars just to get from one end of the post to another. Everyone talked about the corruption. I learned about how much money it cost the American taxpayer so that I could walk into that nice DFAC, sit down, and have a bite to eat.
I ended up working as a cable dog running communications wire within the camp. At first I was pretty apathetic about the war, but I started to understand my complicity in it. I stared to realize what the infrastructure I was building and maintaining was being used for. One day I was working for the combat engineers. They were telling me how important my work was to the mission. But I didnt believe in the mission anymore. Later I was asked to reconnect a fiber optic cable that was labeled Abu Ghraib. The reality of it all would slap me in the face repeatedly over the course of the deployment.
I returned to Darmstadt, Germany in September 2006. As far as Im concerned, I did my part for the G.W.O.T. (Global War on Terror). Upon returning, I was reassigned to another unit in Mannheim, Germanyone that was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan early this summer. I had enough. I started thinking about how to get out.
Before I deployed to Iraq, I had met this other soldier, Kyle Huwer. He was trying to get out as a conscientious objector. I saw the process he went through and how he was treated by the chain of command. He wasnt in Germany any more, but we were still in touch. I was talking things through with him when I decided that I had to simply go AWOL, or absent without leave.
I took official leave before I was supposed to go to my new unit and I didnt return to Germany when I was supposed to. That put me in violation of Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (AWOL).
I remained AWOL for 60 days. At that point my unit classified me as more then AWOLI was now in a deserter status. On May 8 I turned myself in at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Kyle had suggested Fort Sill because it, along with Fort Knox, has a designated out processing center for AWOL soldiers who turn themselves in. But if youre not yet in a deserter status, chances are you will just be returned to the unit you left. It doesnt always work out so smoothly, but on May 11 I was discharged from the Army with an other than honorable discharge.
I now live in Germany, working to help stop the war and helping our soldiers get out. As part of all that, Im trying to start a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War here in Germany, and working with German groups such as the Ansbach Appeal.
I received a phone call from a soldier here in Germany recently. He had just gotten back from Iraq and was being order to redeploy shortly. He did not get leave like I did, so he went AWOL by not catching his plane to the United States to his new, deploying unit. He knew for sure he didn’t want to go back to Iraq. He knew he needed to resist, but he didnt want to screw up his life. If he had gotten good advice, he would have gone AWOL after catching his flight to the states instead of being stuck in Germany with no passport.
I don’t believe in this war. I would like to see more people choosing not to deploy. I think this is the only direct and effective resistance that is going to make this war impossible to go on forever. If the politicians refuse to listen to the people, then the people need to take action. If we had resistance throughout the military then we could finally end this war here and now.
To donate to Chris Capp’s efforts via PayPal to start a IVAW Germany chapter, click here.