By Courage to Resist. November 18, 2007
While home on leave in January 2007, Army Spc Kimberly Rivera made the life changing decision that she would not be returning to the Iraq War. Instead, she packed up the family car and drove to Canada with her husband and two children. She is currently one of about fifty AWOL US war resisters who are openly seeking sanctuary in Canada. This is her story.
Also now available, Courage to Resist audio interview with Kimberly. December 4, 2007
Kimberly Rivera grew up in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb east of Dallas. She had never thought of becoming a soldier until she was seventeen and the Army recruiters visited her home to meet with Kimberly and her parents. The recruiters offered money for college that her family did not have. Her mother was supporting Kimberly, her father, and her two sisters after her father suffered a work related accident. She took an aptitude test for job placement out of “curiosity”, but later signed up to be a mechanic. She was given an enlistment date following graduation for the Army Reserves.
On July 14, 2001 Kimberly was sent to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for Basic Training. After suffering from morning sickness for several weeks, she attended sick call where the doctors told her there was nothing wrong with her, but handed her some pills saying, “This will take care of all your problems.” She did not take the pills and continued with training.
Just before Christmas 2001, three months after entering AIT training, the commander released her because of her pregnancy. Because Kimberly was not active duty, she had only part time benefits which did not include health care or dental, or any of the other things that she needed to be a mom and a soldier—and the military agreed.
She returned home to Mesquite and to her job at Wal-Mart. Within the next two years she had two children, a boy and a girl. “I still felt like a 24 year old loser because our jobs were not paying the bills for the apartment, food, car, car insurance and health insurance and credit card bills.” They moved in with her parents, which created additional stress.
She thought about the military again. The Army offered job security, sign-on bonuses, a food and clothing allowance, medical benefits, housing allowance, “Everything I needed, they had. It’s the best form of socialism” she thought. After talking to an Army recruiter in January 2006, she joined up for a second time—this time active duty to receive full benefits for her family. She was again sent to Ft. Jackson a month later. Because she had previously completed Basic Training in 2001, she was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood in March 2006 and after passing her truck driving course was assigned to G Company, 2-17 Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Ft. Carson, Colorado. For the next few months she spent two weeks of each month in the deserts of the Colorado Rockies and a month in Death Valley, California.
In October 2006 her reserve unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. “I felt like I was losing my mind. I was so close to death so many times. It scares me now. My life as I knew it was falling apart and I was unable to pull it together. I was surrounded by males who were filled with filthy comments and talking about all kinds of sexual things. I was there for three months and was scared that some of the guys might try to get me to trust them just so later they could have their chance to abuse me.”
“While in Iraq losing soldiers and civilians was part of daily life. I was a gate guard. This was looked down on by infantry soldiers who go out in the streets, but gate guards are the highest security of the Forward Operation Base. We searched vehicles, civilian personnel, and military convoys that left and came back every hour. I had a huge awakening seeing the war as it truly is: people losing their lives for greed of a nation and the effects on the soldiers who come back with new problems such as nightmares, anxieties, depression, anger, alcohol abuse, missing limbs and scars from burns. Some don’t come back at all.”
“On December 21, 2006 I was going to my room and something in my heart told me to go call my husband. And when I did 24 rounds of mortars hit the FOB in a matter of minutes after I got on the phone…the mortars were 10-15 feet from where I was. I found a hole from the shrapnel in my room in the plywood window. That night I found the shrapnel on my bed in the same place where my head would have been if I hadn’t changed my plans and gone to the phone.”
She began questioning everything: “Why am I here? What am I giving my life for? How am I helping my comrades and Iraq’s people? What harm do I see here that would affect the safety of my family back home? Is what I am doing self-defense or aggression?”
That night an Iraqi civilian friend of Kimberly’s was badly wounded. “All I know is she was in very bad shape. The shrapnel hit her in her mid section and she was put on life support. That’s the last I heard from her sisters before I left.”
The following Saturday she watched as an Iraqi father came to the base with a little girl about 2 years old to put in a claim for loss due to Army negligence. The little girl was shaking very hard. “You could see tears of trauma running down her face. No weeping, no whining, just tears. . I was seeing my little girl. I wanted to hold her so bad, but I was afraid of scaring her more and I didn’t want to do that.”
In January 2007 she began two week’s leave. One night in the second week Kimberly and her husband agreed she would not go back to Iraq. He contacted War Resisters Campaign in Canada. They packed their car and began driving from Mesquite, Texas “the long way around to Colorado to delay time.” Every time they got closer to Colorado the dread increased and they would then drive east. “As long as we were going east to Buffalo, we had peace…If we had doubts about our decision; we didn’t once we passed the border. We know all that we left behind: our families, our things in Colorado, our life, our home, our country, and our pride. The most important thing was for us to live as a happy, safe family with both parents in the picture.” They crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada on February 18, 2007.
Kimberly and her family now live in Toronto hoping they will be able to stay. She is the first female war resister in Canada to publicly speak out about her decision to resist returning to the Iraq War. “My goal,” she says,” is to find a better future for my kids.”