By Bob Meola, Courage to Resist. March 15, 2013
“We treated them like dog shit. We’d roll into a village and the guys would throw water bottles at the kids. We’d do home incursions. It was like police harassment in L.A. that I’d seen growing up. We were foreign cops in another people’s country.”
Jules Tindungan (photo right) is a U.S. War Resister living in Toronto, Ontario. He joined the Army in 2005. Jules comes from a military family. His grandfather was from the Philippines and served in World War II and was present at the Bataan death march. An after effect of his service was U.S. citizenship for his family. Many other family members served in the military. Jules’ brother is currently deployed in Afghanistan. Numerous uncles and cousins are also current members of the U.S. military.
Jules told me, “My father is an engineer and my mother is a surgical tech. We were middle to low income living in a low income part of town in Los Angeles. My father hasn’t had steady work in over a decade due to a civil suit against his employer, Cal Trans, for harassment and racism he received at the hands of his co-workers and the non-action of the state in the matter. My mother, for the most part, was the breadwinner. Dad was not able to help in a significant way with the income. Even today, my mom is working sixty hours a week as a surgical tech at a hospital.
“They had four kids and were putting my older sister through college—university. I was a mediocre student. I felt financially I was in a bind. I felt I needed to get a paycheck to help my family. My brother was in the army reserve at the time and helping out the family. He was instrumental and the family encouraged me joining the military. It was like we—my family—had a duty to join the military.
“I joined the Delayed Entry Program during my senior year of high school. As soon as I graduated, I went to basic training. I had about one and a half months in between. In August, 2005, I started basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and then I went to Infantry School.
“Basic training was very tough for me. I wasn’t an athlete growing up. I was into counter culture and punk rock. I had an attitude toward authority. So, basic training was definitely an eye opener for me. That was a few months.
“Then I went to Infantry School where I trained as a mortar man—a sub-class in the infantry—a little version of artillery. I got selected to do follow up training at Airborne School. After that I was selected for the Ranger Indoctrination program. I didn’t agree with the hazing in the program. I quit that after three days.
“Anyone who has been there can tell you that it is really intense. In the middle of the night, they will come in and get you out of bed and make you start doing exercises. It’s called ‘smoking’—physical exercise as punishment. The trainer will pull you out of bed—the hallway floor was drenched with sweat from push-ups and other exercises.
“I got kicked in the stomach while doing flutter kicks—lying on the ground with my feet six inches off the ground kicking them up and down in the air. When your feet start drooping down ‘cause it’s too hard to keep them up—I had a cadre/trainer kick me in the belly and say, ‘Get your feet back up.’ The floor was slippery with sweat.
“Then I got sent to the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina. I was kept in a hold-over battalion that was re-structuring its organization. They called it a RSTA Unit—Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition. I got placed in a new RSTA unit that had no leadership whatsoever. Many of us privates didn’t know what to do. For a number of months in 2008, we had nothing to do. We’d wake up, do physical training and be killing time for four to five hours a day moving furniture and cleaning things. We didn’t have training to prepare us for going overseas until they brought the program leadership in.
“In July or August of 2006, we finally got some training about five months before we deployed. Eighty percent of the unit had zero experience overseas. We were brand new—very green—either right out of basic training or like me—with no training.
“This affected me, personally. My job was to provide indirect fire. If I was in the general vicinity, I’d have to set up to fire tiny artillery shells to support troops in a fire fight. I had no training to do it. The last time I’d fired a round was in basic training. That’s like a rifleman who learns to shoot in basic and then doesn’t shoot for a year. I had to learn as I went.
“I got to Afghanistan in January, 2007 with very little training in my job of being a mortar man. My mortar team killed civilians who were considered collateral damage. There was no accuracy. It’s called bracketing. They say to go to the left or right but it ends up near people’s houses.
“Our unit got thrown right into the fire. We had very little experience. We were along the Pakistan border in the mountains. Because we were a reconnaissance unit, we didn’t stick around one base very long. We didn’t develop local relationships. We were moving around constantly. We had zero credibility with the people. It was bad for us soldiers and it was bad for the local people too. We could never build any rapport between our unit and the people. It created a bad situation wherever we went.
“During 2007, I was on a number of different bases. We lost two people. The unit was—each company was about eighty people. We had three companies. There were about three hundred in the unit. We were very dispersed. We had a number of people wounded and permanently maimed. My buddy, Jose—we got separated. There were thirty or fifty men on bases in the same province, guarding a pass. His platoon got ambushed. A rocket ripped through his truck and exploded between his legs, resulting in the loss of his reproductive organs. He begged a soldier to shoot and kill him.
“Another guy was walking through tall grass. He was shot in the leg. He’s an amputee. He lost a leg. He also got shot in his armor and it bounced around inside and tore up his organs. He was drenched in blood.
“From January to July, we were constantly on the move, securing a district and moving on to another district or province. I was in Pakia, Gardez, and Paktika, and Gaznia provinces. For a large chunk of the deployment, I moved around a lot. In August, 2007, there was a really big long mission in Paktia. Hamid Karzai came to visit too.
“We had to secure this pass. It hadn’t seen any NATO action since 2001, since the initial invasion. They had some Rangers or Special Forces pinned down there. It was big and quick and they left and had never come back. It was an isolated location. We secured the pass for Karzai to come in and talk to the people.
“The orders came from NATO to guard this pass for the duration of our deployment. I was put with Chainsaw Company in Wilderness Base. It was FOB [Forward Operating Base] Wilderness. It was so isolated and far away from any main cities. That’s where I stayed for the rest of my deployment from August, 2007 to April, 2008. The official designation of our enemy was ACM, ‘Anti-Coalition Militia.’ The enemy that we were facing, often times, came from different groups. Eithe they were Haqqani Network, legitimate resistance fighters, or remnants from the old Taliban. Most of the old-school Taliban, from the nineties, had gone and fled to Pakistan after the initial invasion. There was indigenous resistance of farmers and local people. There are about six or seven high ranking Al Queda people left in Afghanistan.
“Some time, late in our deployment, either November or December, 2007, many of us were notified that we were going to be stop-lossed. The leadership in our unit didn’t make it clear whether it would be to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“They let us know that anyone, with a contract ending in 2009, would be kept over for another deployment. That happened in 2009 through 2010. I was in Toronto and I heard about it. A buddy I’d lived in a hut with stayed in contact with me until he died in 2010. I knew in April, 2008 that the next deployment would happen.
“I was already trying to figure out how to change my job—my M.O.S.—and get out of the situation of having to deploy again. I was thinking: They got me suckered into another deployment. There’s no way out of that. But how can I get out of being in a situation again like I was in in Afghanistan, where they had me dropping bombs on people? I had reservations already because of my involvement in the deaths of a couple of civilians. I was wounded in a September, 2007. There was a fire fight around September 20th through 27th. One platoon was heavily pinned down taking heavy fire. We had done BDA—Battle Damage Assessment. Thirteen bodies had fired on seven or eight U.S. troops.
“The called for fire. My mortar team had dropped a number of rounds in that area and blown people to bits. They found a woman and her child who had been killed by one of the mortars I’d dropped. That took a toll on my sanity for a bit. It contributed to me having my first anti-war feelings—my first feelings against this war and death of my friends and it started to snowball in deciding I didn’t want to be a combat soldier anymore.
“We treated them like dog shit. We’d roll into a village and the guys would throw water bottles at the kids. We’d do home incursions. It was like police harassment in L.A. that I’d seen growing up. We were foreign cops in another people’s country.
“I still performed my job. I never went AWOL there. When I came back in April, 2008, I talked to a sergeant major about changing my job to Civil Affairs work. I know now that Civil Affairs is B.S. It’s trying to hand out blankets to make up for its conduct. That didn’t pan out.
“My options were small. After a couple of weeks, I’d planned to go AWOL. A buddy helped me go AWOL. I ran away in the middle of the night, in May. I’d flown to L.A. and lived with friends for a couple of weeks. I stayed away from my family in case they were being monitored. I knew I had a thirty day grace period before being turned in to the system.
“I didn’t even know about IVAW or Courage to Resist or the War Resisters Support Campaign at the time. I found out about all of that after being in L.A. for thirty days. My sister convinced me to come home. My dad was worried that I’d been killed and the Army wouldn’t tell him. So, I had to talk to my dad. I stayed with them. We talked about my options.
“My brother was graduating from ROTC in the last week of May. He was pissed at me. I had to tell him how we locked people in boxes with no ventilation and we strapped bodies on the hoods of our trucks and paraded them around the villages. I put on my uniform and went to his ROTC graduation. That’s the last time I put on my uniform. I gave my brother his first salute as an officer while I was an AWOL soldier.
“The first two weeks I was couch-surfing and the last week and a half I was with my parents, trying to convince them that what I did was right. My dad wasn’t sure. I told him one deployment was enough and I couldn’t be blowing people up again. He said we had some cousins in Vancouver. I had an aunt there.
“The next morning, after the graduation, I went to Vancouver and that is where I filed for asylum. I got taken in by some socialists—some hardcore communists. They taught me a lot about politics. I know nothing about politics when I went AWOL. I wasn’t even totally anti-war. I was anti the messed-up crap that I’d seen.
“I learned a lot and became politically aware, here in Canada. I got involved in some speaking stuff. I got very active. I got worn out speaking in 2009.
“I met my wife in 2008. She’s an activist. We got married in 2009. I decided to live more quietly and stop doing political stuff and started to work. My refugee board hearing didn’t happen for another year—until June, 2010.
“I got to Vancouver, B.C. in May, 2008. I got caught at the border as a deserter. I was on a Greyhound bus full of tourists. I told the Canadian customs people that I had family there. They started looking through my stuff. One officer said I was ‘clean’—nothing on me. I felt they had been looking to see if I was a drug smuggler and I felt it was racist. I was the only person searched. Then they found my military I.D. in my pocket. They had found three previous deserters and now said, ‘He’s one of them.’
“I told them I wanted to apply for asylum. They kept me there for twelve hours asking me questions. They had to let me stay when I asked for asylum. I had stayed a year in Vancouver. Two resisters, who came after me, got kicked out of Canada after four months. But I had moved to Montreal, Quebec in 2009. It was stupid. I didn’t speak any French.
“My buddy, Chris, from my same unit and company, went AWOL too. He was from Philly. He went to Toronto and got a hold of me. I was telling him how things weren’t working out for me. He said to come to Toronto. We lived with him. We both learned the iron working trade. His asylum decision got denied and then he went to Canadian federal court and was successful.
“In my case, the judge agreed, one hundred percent with all of my arguments and demanded that the refugee board hear my case. They had denied me once. The Refugee Board of Canada denied my claim in October, 2012. The federal refugee board denies everyone’s claims because of a clear mandate from the Canadian government. It would change everything if Canada allowed U.S. soldiers to come up here.
“I was trying to figure out what to do. My lawyer, Allyssa Manning, took my case to a higher court and the federal court found in my favor in the first week of January.
“My wife is a Canadian citizen. She is sponsoring me. They can’t remove me from the country without hearing from my sponsor. We filed the papers to be heard. There is so much back-log that they haven’t seen our sponsorship case yet. If that case is successful, I could become a permanent resident of Canada.
“From October through December, 2012, I was worrying. My lawyer said we’d argue for a re-trial at the Refugee Board. The Federal Court couldn’t give me refugee status. They demanded that the Refugee Board rehear my case. A date for a rehearing has not been set yet.
“The government of Canada is conservative. Stephen Harper has made it clear that he doesn’t want us—U.S. war resisters—here. They say we are ‘bogus refugees.’ His party backed the war in Iraq.
“Operational Bulletin 202, in July, 2010, was a notice that the immigration mission handed to immigration officers around Canada saying to kick us out before we can ask for political asylum.
“The New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party back us. We are trying to get refugee status. The government, technically, should not have any say in the immigration process. But they have been trying to influence the immigration process.
“The immigration board recently has tried to say that U.S. deserters are criminals. You cannot have committed another crime in the military that would get you ten years. If you desert from the Canadian Army, you get ten years in prison. They are calling it ‘criminal inadmissability’. They are also saying to deny deserters who have married Canadians. They have shot a couple of people down like that. The process is not supposed to be political. But it has become political. Theoretically, the sponsorship of me could be approved by an immigration officer. It would make me a permanent resident of Canada.”
Jules Tindungan could become a permanent resident of Canada through the sponsorship of his wife, if the government would decide that in his favor. He could also be granted political asylum by the Immigration and Refugee Board because, according to the War Resisters Support Campaign, the Federal Court of Canada “found that the U.S. court-martial system ‘fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law’ therefore impacting whether Tindungan would receive a fair hearing if returned to the U.S.” The Immigration and Refugee Board could decide that Jules Tindungan could not receive an independent and impartial tribunal as required under Canadian and International law if he was deported back to the United States and could therefore grant him political asylum.
The Canadian Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has twice [in 2007 and in 2009] recommended that the government allow conscientious objectors and their families to stay in Canada. In 2008, Parliament voted in favor of the Committee’s recommendation to the government. In 2009, the House of Commons again voted in a non-binding motion in favor of the Committee’s recommendation. But the Harper government has not honored that recommendation.
What is needed is for the courts of the United States and of the U.S. military to acknowledge the rights of Jules Tindungen and other U.S. war resisters to be exonerated, of any charges of wrong-doing, because of their attempts to follow their consciences and to uphold the Geneva Conventions and other applicable international law and because the United States military violates the Geneva Conventions. Thank you, Jules Tindungen, for recognizing war crimes when you saw them and refusing to be part of them. Thank you for having the courage to resist.