By Army Spc. Dustin Stevens, Ft. Bragg. July 22, 2009

The bus ride to Fort Bragg, North Carolina seemed like an eternity. It had been seven years since I thought about the Army. Seven years of hard work, paid taxes and struggle to stay afloat, all shot to hell because I thought I was discharged after five months of service in the U.S. Army. Apparently, I was wrong. Now I am under the control of the 82d Replacement Detachment, Echo Platoon. I am awaiting some form of legal action that possibly includes a court martial for desertion.

I thought that to be a deserter you had to leave in a time of war with the intent to never return. But I, and others like me, have found out that this is not the case.

I refused duty in 2002 after just five months of service after having panic and anxiety attacks. I found that the more I thought of killing another human being, the worse the attacks got.

I had joined the Army thinking that I had no other option. Later, however, a friend sent me literature on conscientious objection, and introduced me to a man named Dr. Paul Adams. Dr. Adams taught me that my feelings were not wrong as the Army had told me. That choosing not to fight an unjust war was not only honorable, but following your own heart and mind would make me a better man. I felt brainwashed by the Army, so I went about unlearning what they had taught me.

I had no love for anything when I joined the military. I was miserable. It wasn’t until I realized that hatred is baggage that leads to a life of unhappiness that I found myself. For the first time in my 19-year-old life I had found happiness—and it didn’t include killing, or training to kill, other human beings.

Now in the Army’s eyes, I signed a contract—a federal contract that holds you to an obligatory term of service. It doesn’t matter that someone might change their mind. That’s against the rules.

Going thousands of miles to a country that may or may not have weapons of mass destruction just because a group of men says so is sane in the eyes of the Army. Having an abstract thought of your own—namely not wanting to kill innocent women and children on a quest for power and oil—is insane.

Ask yourself, why is it that this “war on terror” holds the record for AWOL, desertion and suicide against every other U.S. war since Vietnam? Maybe because an undeclared, un-winnable war against terrorism (something that will always exist) doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.

I expressed these feelings to my command over and over. I was met only with dead ends. “Suck it up.” “You’ll feel different when you get to a unit.” “It’s just nerves, get over it.” So I did what I had to, I refused to continue in the U.S. Army.

So here I sit, facing of possibly three years in military prison for desertion.

I have no other criminal record and had been pulled over numerous times before January, 2009. I had just started a job at FedEx that required a federal background check. I received no letter or phone call from the Army, and neither had any of my family members. So am I to be made an example of for following my heart, and my conscience, for quitting a job?

I have been here in Echo Platoon for over six months now. I have been told that I would be out in two months with a chapter. Clearly that didn’t happen. Now I am facing court martial, but have not yet received any formal charges.

I have been told by my First Sgt that I have no rights, and neither does anyone else in Echo Platoon. I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if it affects the rest of some ones life. But I disagree with him.

It may seem that we have no rights because we are treated like dog shit, to put it bluntly. Or the fact that a Purple Heart veteran like Spc. Corey Keyes (a man I am proud to call my friend) received 15 months in prison with a dishonorable discharge because he left due to PTSD that was diagnosed, but later rejected, after the Army instructed their doctors to stop diagnosing the condition. I’m sure the Officers panel that convicted him sleeps comfortably every night. The young men of Echo had to look his mother and wife in the eye and tell them that it would all be okay. Or Jeffrey Reynolds, who got 10 months in a military prison in California, making it nearly impossible for his wife and family to visit him because they live in Georgia.

How much are the American tax payers spending to keep us here? I have been here for six months, but there are guys that have been here for close to a year. None of your time here counts toward whatever court martial sentence you may receive later. If you do what you’re told, it seems like you get the worst punishment.

Since I have been here I have seen multiple offenders of AWOL and drugs chaptered out of the Army with little or no jail time. But everyone who was living their lives in an honorable way back home—in keeping with 82nd Airborne standards—is prosecuted. Even our Echo cadre is in agreement that the prosecutors are trying to screw us.

We aren’t given a defense attorney until we are read your charges, yet we are told to work on our cases before then. How do we work on a case when we have no idea what the charges against will be? The prosecution has our cases for months before they bring charges against us—sometimes soldiers have mere weeks to prepare for their courts martial.

We are human beings. Some of us have made mistakes. Some of us chose the path we are taking. All of us have had to sit here in this hell hole for far too long. We are over crowded, and treated less than human on a daily basis. We have no privacy. We have no lives. We are confined to a 50 mile radius, yet our time doesn’t count towards confinement. We have lost our jobs. Some have lost their families. Some have lost their minds.

What type of citizens are the 82d Airborne creating for the outside world? When we can’t get a good job because of the discharge we received, what will we do? We pay millions of dollars to keep justice and peace overseas, yet there is no justice in what is being done here.

I am angered at the way I see our young American men and women treated. I have not mentioned any names because I don’t want to put any of the people that eat, sleep and breathe next to me in any more trouble.

My name is Dustin Che Stevens, thank you.

“In the face of Evil and Tyranny the people will have the last word. That of victory.”