ImageArmy Airborne Infantryman who went AWOL in April 2007 because of his opposition to U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. James enlisted in the Army in 2001 following the attack on the World Trade Center. He spent a year in the Kirkuk area of northern Iraq from March 2003 to March 2004. After much soul-searching, James left his base in Vicenza, Italy (Caserma Ederle) on April 10, 2007. “I refuse to be part of this campaign in the Middle East. Everything in me is against it”

I saw kids turn into animals
By James Circello, AWOL Army Sgt.

I enlisted in September 2001
and reported to my unit in Italy in June of 2002.
I was an alright Private —
got along with everyone, did my job the best I could,
trained and jumped from airplanes.

In December 2002 ,we were told
that we would all be taking a set of Anthrax vaccinations
in preparation for deployment to Iraq.
I didn’t believe I should be forced to take these and opposed it.
People looked at me as not wanting to go to Iraq,
as if I was trying to get out of it this way.

Truth was, I DIDNT want to go to Iraq,
but I believed that these vaccinations
weren’t designed for weaponized anthrax,
and I thought the long-term
effects had not been studied fully,
so I was sincerely hesitant to take the shot.
I had a summary court martial
and my commander sent me to Mannheim, Germany,
to the detention facility for a month.
“Disobeying a direct order from a Commissioned Officer.”

I was released in February 2003
and told we were going to Iraq.

They threatened that I had to take the vaccination
or I would go back to jail.
After talking with my friends
I decided to take it because I didn’t want them to go
without me.
I felt close to them and cared about them.

So I deployed.

I saw kids turn into animals.
Members of my own unit, who I will never speak negatively about,
doing things that one day I know
will haunt them.

I saw soldiers mistreating detained Iraqis.
Detained on nothing more than pure suspicion in some cases.
But why not, it was the Old West, anything goes and anything did go. Honestly.

Questionable shootings.
Questionable decisions by superior commanders.
Nothing ever questioned by your superiors.
You as the Soldier were always in the right.

One platoon in particular killed so many people,
some legally,
some others
maybe not so legally.
They were investigated.
Nothing ever came from it.
Everyone always knew nothing would come from it.
In the military you watch each other’s back, against the “bad guys” —
including the investigators.

I did see a side of Iraq I didn’t know existed.
A courageous group of people, fighting for their own survival,
compassionate and friendly.
It was always so easy to make friends with an Iraqi —
whether he was Kurdish, Arabic or Turkish —
it never made a difference.

I left the country feeling awful.

It was so hard to speak to anyone in America about it,
because they had no idea.

I heard “I am so glad you are home”, “I can’t imagine how it must have been” and all I could think about was that I hated being back,
I wanted to be in Iraq – but helping.

Not patrolling. Not killing.

They welcomed us into that country literally with parades
and initially I thought the media had it all wrong, they aren’t showing the good face of this war.

We are liberators!

But I was disillusioned.

I saw how the Military and America in general
had demonized these people to the point where it was literally impossible
to see anything good inside of them.

Maybe it was because I was 23 when I enlisted
and it was somewhat more difficult for me to be completely molded,
but I saw beauty in their culture and country,
as well as in the people.
And what got me was that this is an Ancient Culture.
Older than anything we have ever begun to think about.

Once out of Iraq
I served some time stateside,
then went to Italy and the 173rd.

I was a Squad Leader, got along with everyone,
and they all seemed to like me because I was a veteran of the unit
and not another new guy.

I saw frightened kids come.
I saw some leave and go AWOL.

So many people there are against the war.
They don’t want to go.

But that’s in private. If you speak about it in public,
you get looked at funny, especially as a leader.

I told my roommate in November that I’d had enough,
and if he didn’t see me come back from leave,
he would know what I had done.

I told him for months.
I told other friends, who, in private, supported me fully.
And I thank them for it, and wish they had left too,
because I know they wanted to.

I left Iraq with a love for the culture.
I refuse to be part of this campaign in the Middle East.
Everything in me is against it.