By SPC Justin Colby, US Army. March 22, 2013
Justin wrote this statement a few hours before being sent away for 9 months to a military prison. Justin had lived in Canada in order to refuse a second Iraq deployment, and to better care for his family. See below for how to help Justin now.
My name is Justin Colby and I am an Active Duty soldier serving in the United States Army. I am writing today to talk about some of my experiences serving in the US Army. I admit that there were many positive experiences about my serving the Army (and I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for many of those that I served with), but for the purposes of this writing I will focus on the negative experiences that shaped my ability to participate in this organization.
I enlisted in May of 2003. My first duty station was South Korea. While I was in South Korea, I learned about the Iraq war. Glaring discrepancies became obvious. One professor said that Iraq never attacked the United States. As I talked to other soldiers about this, none of the people I served with could seem to explain why we should attack a country that never attacked us. When I asked at the command level why we were attacking Iraq I was dismissed completely.
Eleven months into my Korean tour I was notified that I would be going to Iraq. I started researching more and asking more questions. While my unit was in Kuwait getting ready to cross over the Iraq border I explained to my first sergeant that I did not think I could participate in offensive operations against a country that never attacked us. I asked to apply for conscientious objector status. The First Sergeant made me do pushups until I was completely exhausted and humiliated. He told me that we could take “this” as high up the chain of command as I wanted, but the only result would be that I would be labeled a “domestic terrorist.” This intimidation worked and I crossed the border as commanded.
Our destination was Ar-Ramadi, Al Anbar Province, Iraq – in the heart of the Sunni triangle. Immediately, I was terrified. Our base was attacked with mortars daily. Coalition forces and Iraqi resistance fighters came to our medical facility daily, wounded and killed in action. It was very difficult for me to watch mothers cry to us as we tried to save the lives of the women wounded by US forces. On multiple occasions, soldiers opened fire on vehicles carrying unarmed women and children. This happened for a variety of reasons (but most often happened because)if the soldiers commanded them to stop and they failed to stop ,lethal force was authorized. Regardless of the reasons, watching the life slip from a three year old toddler was devastating to both its mother and myself.
I can also remember the Marines being particularly brutal in the handling of the dead bodies of the Iraqis killed in action. They would routinely toss the bodies off of their vehicles into the dirt beyond our medical facility. Watching bloodied, mutilated bodies rolling around in the dirt never felt normal to me. I can remember how we openly referred to the Iraqi casualties as “practice patients.” We routinely allowed medics to perform procedures outside of their scope of practice. As medics, we only had sixteen weeks of medical training.
To put it in perspective, imagine if you mother had a heart attack and passed away, and you had to come to the hospital to identify her – but when you saw her body, you discovered that it was essentially dissected by somebody with only sixteen weeks of training – and imagine find out it was for “practice.”
I made it through our year long deployment to Iraq only to return home to be abused by my new chain of command. I returned in August of 2005. In the late fall I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. I married her after hearing this news (something I was very excited about), but it ended up being a nightmare. By December of 2005 I discovered that my pregnant wife was addicted to methamphetamine and was having an affair with a convicted felon (with a history of domestic violence). I immediately contacted the Colorado Springs police and Child protective service. I also filed for divorce (seeking custody of my soon-to-be-born son). I was told that this was the only way that I could prevent my soon-to-be-born son from being further harmed was to divorce my wife and demand custody.
My June of 2006 things were reaching a very bad place. I was only weeks away from finalizing the divorce (and gaining full custody of my son). But at the end of June I was told that I would be deploying to the National Training Center for training in preparation for a second Iraq deployment. Our deployment to NTC was scheduled for early July, preventing me from protecting my son. I as devastated and both my physical and mental health deteriorated. I begged and pleaded with my leadership to no avail. My life turned into a nightmare. I felt like I had to leave before things got worse. In a time of extreme emotional distress, I left my unit and went AWOL. A short time later I went to Canada where I sought legal status based on my family hardship and my moral objections to further participation in war. After I left, Child Protective Services ended up removing my son from his mother. I unfortunately was unable to gain custody myself due to my legal status with the Army. It is this aspect of my story that I regret most. I can only say that had lost all faith in the legal system to do the right thing.
While in Canada I tried to live my life as best I could. In the coming years, I formed a new family (with my Canadian common-law spouse, I had two new children). I always grieved the circumstances of why I had to leave, but I felt betrayed by the Army. I had felt that I had been required to put my own moral concerns aside to deploy the first time (doing this out of a sense of obligation to my oath and to my comrades), but when I later faced a terrible family crisis, the Army abandoned me.
By the summer of 2012 I made the decision to return to the US. I had completed the first stage of being sponsored for legal residency in Canada (based on my family ties in Canada) so I was not deported. But I made the decision to come back anyway because I wanted to take responsibility for my actions and not be separated from my extended family. I wanted my children to grow up getting to see their grandparents and their aunts and uncles in the United States. In July I returned to military custody and was eventually sent back to Fort Carson. I continued to serve (doing whatever jobs were asked of me) from July 2012-March 2013. I sought an administrative discharge in lieu of court-martial but my request was denied. Today I will be pleading guilty to the charge of desertion.
A few hours after Justin Colby wrote this, he was sentenced to 15 months in confinement, a bad conduct discharge, reduction to the lowest rank (E-1) and loss of all pay allowances (despite the fact this income is desperately needed to support his family), however, thanks to a sealed pre-trial plea agreement SPC Colby will only be serving a 9 month prison sentence. (Unlike the civilian system, military defendants who have a plea deal receive the lesser sentence of either the pre-agreed terms or what the judge thinks the sentence should be.)