"As a counselor on the GI Rights Hotline, I know that, for every GI in the news refusing to fight, there are thousands more GIs quietly saying, "No!" to this war."
By Susan Galleymore, Courage to Resist. Published in Left Curve Journal Spring 2007.
One of the best kept secrets of our time is the ferocious GI resistance to the war in Vietnam. It covered the gamut from individual, passive, and unorganized to overtly active, collective, and organized. It sprouted in military barracks and on aircraft carriers. It flourished in army stockades, navy brigs, and in the dingy towns that surround military bases. It penetrated elite West Point, spread through Vietnam’s battlefields and, according to a Vietnam-era military officer, by 1971 it had infested the entire armed services. Until the recent screening of the documentary, Sir, No Sir!, the American public knew little about the resistance to that war.
Today, there is budding GI resistance to this war, the Global War on Terror (GWOT). So far, resistance has not blossomed into the near-epidemic of that time but the ground is fertile and thanks to Sir, No Sir! GIs are learning their history and emulating their forebears.
As a counselor on the GI Rights Hotline, I know that, for every GI in the news refusing to fight, there are thousands more GIs quietly saying, "No!" to this war. I predict that, despite the monolithic nature of the military, GI resistance to the GWOT will be active, individual, public, and persistent. It will also be supported by a parallel and collaborative civilian resistance — irate mothers, fathers, and grannies, for example — and facilitated by the Internet and the widespread recognition that our nation has been had by cynical radical neoconservatives. I predict this as I am one of those irate mothers.
An Army of one
My association with the U.S. military and the Global War on Terror began very personally. I come from a long line of men enlisted into war from the British Raj in India, the second Anglo-Boer War, WW I and II, and South Africa’s covert war against the Frontline States. Seeing first hand the physical and psychological devastation wrought on my family’s males, I came to believe that — given the opportunity — motivated individuals and nations can resolve conflict without resorting to government sanctioned violence. Ironically, I am also a military mom: my son is a highly trained soldier and a U.S. Army medic. When he enlisted in 1999 I was not pleased about his choice but, as he pointed out, there was no war on the horizon. "Besides," he said, "I am not going to change my mind about serving." Little knowing my prescience, I responded, "We’re at the end of the Clinton presidency. Who knows who the next president may be or what disastrous policies he may inflict upon us?"
My son was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. I struggled through that six-month tour of duty and the additional three-month extension. Six months later he was deployed to Iraq. At that point, I engaged the war from the point of view of a warrior mother: I traveled to Iraq to learn first hand about how the invasion was affecting our troops — and Iraqi families. That trip grew into MotherSpeak, an organization that shares the stories of mothers around the world affected by war and terror. Then I trained as a counselor on the GI Rights Hotline and have spent more than two years counseling troops and decoding military rules and regulations. I also co-founded Courage to Resist to support the troops that refuse to fight.
Just the facts
Official Pentagon numbers state that over 8,000 soldiers troops have gone Absent without Leave (AWOL) since the start of the GWOT in March 2003. They also state that over 25,000 troops from all branches of the military have gone AWOL or taken Unexcused Absences (UA) since 2000.
I believe the unofficial numbers for all troops are even higher. In 2005, for example, GI Rights Hotline counselors answered over 38,000 calls nationally. Today, the Hotline has more than doubled the number of trained counselors to cope with the volume of calls. In 2006, over 75 percent of the calls answered came from troops already AWOL or UA or about to go AWOL or UA. In telephone conversations with administrators at military Personnel Control Facility (PCFs) around the nation, Ive learned that, at minimum, approximately 25 to 50 AWOL or UA troops await processing out of the military each week. This does not include the six to eight "catchers" — military personnel who travel around the country — retrieving and returning troops to bases for non-judicial punishment. The majority of reluctant GIs are either discharged or reattached to their units and their stories never reach the public.
To understand the military Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) it helps to understand military lingo: Soldiers (Army, National Guard, Individual Ready Reserve) go AWOL; Marines, Sailors, or Airmen/women go UA. Initially, none is a deserter as this describes a service member who intends never to turn him- or herself back into the military. AWOLs and UAs fully intend to return to the military. While many nuances pertain, the distinction between AWOL/UA and deserter is not a matter of semantics: the maximum penalty for desertion during wartime is execution.
Each branch of the military has its own process for AWOL or UA service members. The rules and regulations for each branch are clearly stated in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and service members have the right to access them. Unfortunately few troops conduct the research that could help their case; knowing this, gung-ho base commanders, officers, or NCOs can and do — bend the rules based upon personal preference or antipathy towards individuals. At these times, the expertise of GI Rights counselors or civilian lawyers specializing in military law is invaluable.
Of the four branches, the Army’s process is the easiest to understand: a soldier must be gone at least 30 days before s/he is officially categorized as AWOL. After this period the associated paperwork prepared and a federal warrant is made out for her/his arrest. If no other charges are pending and the service member is not arrested during a routine traffic violation or similar event and s/he turns her- himself in at a PCF, s/he could be discharged within five to seven days.
If the Army’s process is the easiest to understand, the Marine Corps process is the most complex and most likely to include unexpected consequences to a service member. Where the Army usually begins processing out AWOLs after 30 days, UA Marines must be gone over 180 days. During this time UAs must keep a low profile and avoid being turned in, arrested, or otherwise apprehended by suspicious civilians or local or military police.
Despite the assumption that the military is a bureaucracy that doesn’t change easily, I find that the Marine Corp change procedures informally depending on circumstances. Former Marine Jeff Paterson, who claimed Conscientious Objector status and refused to deploy for Gulf War I, reported that, in his experience at that time, Marine leadership is less likely to return a UA who has been gone for six months or more to a unit.
Jeff states, "A Marine who has been gone for six months has lost the Marine mindset and has become a different creature from fellow Marines. The thrall that holds an active duty Marine has been broken. It is often too troublesome for the leadership to re-propagandize a lapsed Marine. Its easier just to get rid of that person before the rest of the unit is infected."
Nevertheless, as the GWOT gains momentum, fewer new recruits can be persuaded to enlist, and more GIs refuse to fight, I find that a UA, even after an absence of over 180 days, can be simply returned to her or his unit or transferred to another unit. Alternatively, a UA who is ultimately discharged is more likely to be court martialed or serve time in the brig. I discuss this in more detail below.
Both the Air Force and the Navy must be gone for over 180 days before paperwork is processed for discharge.
It is impossible to list all the reasons why troops go AWOL/UA. Nevertheless, whether it is family hardship, a medical condition, a personal grievance, even a change of heart about war, the underlying theme is incompatibility with the military institution and its mission. By the time they go AWOL/UA, most service members have exhausted the military processes for redress — with little success. Most find the AWOL/UA option worth the risk.
AWOLs or UAs usually but not always — receive an Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge. This bad paper discharge could affect a service members future employment. A Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) or Dishonorable Discharge (DD) will most certainly affect a service members future employment. These discharges, if given for a routine AWOL or UA, should be fought vigorously.
It is possible to upgrade a bad paper discharge but there is no guarantee that an upgrade will be granted. Some counselors believe that it may become easier to upgrade bad paper discharges if this war’s overall reputation as noble, necessary, and against terror and WMDs continues to plummet.
A caveat or two
Any service member seeking a discharge or considering going AWOL or UA is urged to call the GI Rights Hotline, the Military Law Task Force, or the Lawyers Guild to discuss options with a trained counselor or lawyer and discuss whether any changes have been made to the UCMJ. Given the history of GI resistance against unpopular wars and the large numbers of troops currently refusing to fight, it is likely the military will increase punishment to resistors. No service member should act without a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of her/his intended action.
In discussing the following high profile cases I share information gleaned from my or my colleague’s work with these troops who have refused to fight. The stories of Ehren Watada and Agustin Aguayos for example, are available on the Internet and, instead of repeating information here, I reference applicable web sites.
"I have come to believe that it is wrong to destroy life, that it is wrong to use war, that it is immoral, and that I can no longer go down this path. Because I have taken this stand, I am free even though my body will probably be locked up. This is something I can live with. Something I can’t live with is being a participant of war." -Army Specialist Agustin Aguayo, U.S. Army, 1st Armored Division
During his one year tour of duty as a medic in Iraq, Agustin Aguayo was decorated for his service under combat conditions. Stationed in Germany in February 2004, he applied for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector (CO). His application was denied by the Secretary of the Army. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (which has jurisdiction over court cases concerning U.S. military personnel stationed abroad) upheld the Pentagons decision for reasons Aguayos attorneys believe are contrary to legal precedent.
Aguayos appeal is the first military CO case to come before the powerful and influential D.C. Circuit Court in the 35 years since the Vietnam War. His appeal is one of only a handful of CO cases to reach the appellate level; it is also the only one pending.
The U.S. government seeks to cut back on existing legal precedent, set during the Vietnam War, that civilian courts have authority, under the Writ of Habeas Corpus, to exercise oversight over the military s decisions regarding CO applications. This precedent protects the right of conscientious objection which dates back to the Revolutionary War. In Aguayo’s case, the Army argues that the federal court should defer to military expertise without requiring any verifiable factual or logical basis for the army’s denial of his CO application. This argument is consistent with recent attacks on the authority of independent courts to use the historic Writ of Habeas Corpus to challenge unfettered Executive power.
The decision of the United States Court of Appeals in the case of Aguayo vs. the Secretary of the Army could profoundly influence the willingness of the civilian courts to question the Executives refusal to honor the right of U.S. military personnel to exercise their freedom of religion, including the right not to participate in war.
While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit considered Aguayo’s appeal of the army’s refusal to release him, he was threatened with forced and imminent return to combat. The eyewitness account of this event by Agustin’s wife, Helga, states that, on September 2nd, at approximately 9:45 a.m., I got a call from Augie that he was being held at his unit’s headquarters. He told me they were bringing him home to get his uniform and Iraq stuff. He refused to grab his Iraq gear but the sergeant escorting him told him he didn’t need to, just to put on the uniform and grab his toothbrush, a pillow, and a blanket. Augie refused. I thought maybe it was over, but then a short while later two sergeants came to our apartment and forced Augie to get his Iraq gear. He went to the back of the house and jumped out a window. One of my daughters was skating in the front, and one sergeant chased her and demanded she tell him where he was. She was terrified and ran away. They came pounding on doors and searched the house three times, looking through all my personal things. And then the Rear-Detachment Commander and the 1st Sergeant came and went as far as to say that he would be put on that plane, even if he had to be put in handcuffs. They tried to intimidate me and were very harsh with their words. Listen to Helga’s interview
Agustin went AWOL in Germany then, unaided by the military, made his way back to the U.S. and well within his 30-day limit turned himself in to military custody at Ft. Irwin, California. I accompanied him from Los Angeles to Ft. Irwin.
If anyone is a conscientious objector to war, it is Agustin Aguayo. At the same time, anyone considering applying for CO status should understand that this is not an easy out of the military. CO status is no longer based solely on religious belief but rather on the crystallization of belief about the nature of war and warfare. The application process takes a long time and begins with writing a personal statement about why one considers oneself a CO and includes defending that point of view in front of a military board.
Working with the Aguayos crystallized my belief that anyone considering applying for CO status should also take practical considerations into account, including:
- Is the service member prepared for a protracted and, usually, expensive legal battle? The Aguayo family — Agustin, his wife, and two daughters — are faced with loss of income while fighting this case, the costs of the family traveling to and from Germany where Agustin is held, and mounting legal fees. And, there is no guarantee that Agustin will not serve seven years in jail for his resistance with all those attendant financial and emotional costs.
- Has the service member researched other organizations for information on discharges? Service people should be aware that different organizations approach COs and AWOLs and UAs — in different ways. For example, an organization based on religion with an apolitical mission may present the CO application and process in a different light than an organization with a, say, an anti-war mission, or an organization with a purely political or critical theorist mission.
Agustin Aguayo turned himself in at Ft. Irwin and he was taken into military custody. But first, standing outside and witnessed by over two dozen civilian and military individuals, he submitted to a search and his pockets were turned inside out. His wrists and ankles were cuffed and chained, he was assisted into the waiting vehicle, and he was driven to Ft. Irwin’s brig.
Despite the Public Affairs Officer’s proposition that Agustin would probably remain in California, 72 hours later he was returned to Germany. He is currently in a U.S. military prison in Germany awaiting court martial and a possible seven-year jail sentence for refusing to fight in war.
"Fellow resisters, if we stay strong, stand our ground, speak the truth, and stand up for what’s right we will always be free." -Darrell Anderson, U.S. Army, 1st Armored Division
During his seven months as an infantryman in Baghdad, Darrell witnessed U.S. troops abuse and kill civilians, he refused to fire on a civilian automobile, he was wounded by a roadside bomb, and he came to the conclusion that this war is wrong. With the possibility of a second deployment to Iraq and at the urging of his conscience, he went AWOL and fled to Canada.
While he was grateful to Canada for harboring him, Darrell wanted to return to the U.S., accept his punishment — if any — from the Army, receive counseling for the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he sustained in Iraq, and, as he states, "get on with his life." Darrell’s mother drove him across the Peace Bridge bordering Canada and the U.S. and he turned himself in to military custody at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Within five days, he was discharged with an OTH.
I counseled Darrell’s mother, Anita, during the last stage of her sons stay in Canada. I present his case here as the outcome is very different to that of Agustin’s. Both men were in the Army, Darrell went AWOL; so did Agustin. Yet, Darrell was processed out within five days and, today, speaks publicly about his war experiences and against the war in Iraq while Agustin awaits a court martial and sentence.
Darrell’s experiences processing out of the military are also quite different to those of his friend, Ivan Brobeck.
"When the U.S. went to war with Iraq, I was confident that my country was doing the right thing. I couldn’t see why [our politicians] would lie to us. One week after I graduated I was sent off to Marine Corps boot camp. At the end of boot camp the only thing we were told about Iraq was that we were going there to die (that’s was the Drill Instructor’s joke)." -Lance Corporal Ivan Brobeck, U.S. Marine Corps
Ivan Brobeck enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp’s Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) at age 17 while still in high school in Arlington, Virginia. In June, 2003, one week after he graduated, he entered boot camp, completed infantry training, and joined his permanent unit stationed at Camp Lejeune. In March, 2004 Ivan deployed to Iraq.
During his tour of duty in Iraq Lance Corporal Ivan Brobeck witnessed regular instances of U.S. military personnel abusing Iraqi detainees as well as killing Iraqi civilians at military checkpoints in the cities of Mahmudiyah and Fallujah. After returning to the U.S., he came to believe that the war was illegal and contrary to the interests and moral standards of most Americans. He went UA and fled to Canada rather than return to Iraq for a second tour.
After his friend, Darrel Anderson, returned from Canada to the U.S. and turned himself into Army custody at Ft. Sill (see the case history, above) Ivan decided to turn himself into the U.S. Marine Corps. Ivan and his wife, Lisa, expect their first child in February 2007 and, like Darrell, Ivan was eager to get on with his life and receive medical care for the diagnosed PTSD hed sustained during his service in Iraq. Ivan purchased airfare from Toronto to Washington, D.C. for November 7, 2006 (mid-term Election Day in the U.S.) then contacted Courage to Resist.
Since I had counseled Darrell and Anita and worked with their lawyer I did the same for Ivan and Lisa from the point of view of a GI Rights counselor and a representative of Courage to Resist. It is important to stress that these two organizations perform different services. The GI Rights Hotline counsels service members from the point of view of the UCMJ, does not advocate a particular point of view, and does not encourage any particular action over another. Courage to Resist is an anti-war organization that does not aid and abet troops (this is a federal crime) but assists troops in their desire to speak publicly about why they refuse to fight.
Ivan’s case took a very different trajectory to both Darrell and Agustin’s cases:
- Ivan returned from Canada to the U.S. by air. Since had been UA for over 180 days a federal warrant for his arrest had been issued. This meant he’d be apprehended at the airport and taken to a Canadian jail until a Marine Corps catcher could retrieve him to Camp Lejeune. To avoid arrest, Ivan contacted the Marines and arranged for a temporary lifting of the warrant so that he could pass through the airport unmolested. This also, however, allowed the Marine Corps time to review a letter Ivan had written to the White House and Congress and proffer an additional charge of Missing Movement.
- Ivan returned to the U.S. on Election Day. Once back in Marine Corps custody Ivan remained in telephone contact with his wife. Lisa contacted the Marine Corps lawyer daily to track Ivan’s case. This apparently annoyed Ivan’s NCO who expressed his belief that real men are "in charge of their wives and don’t allow their wives to tell them what to do."
- Since Ivan had been diagnosed with PTSD by a civilian doctor the Marine Corps was obliged to send him for diagnosis and treatment by a military doctor. This did not happen and Ivan’s stress level escalated; so did Lisa’s phone calls expressing her concern.
- After an array of contradictory agreements between the Brobecks and the USMC, a final offer was presented to Ivan: take a Bad Conduct Discharge and the USMC will release you after 60 days in the brig (instead of two years) and you’ll be home for the birth of your first child.
After Ivan accepted this arrangement, Lisa Brobeck stated: "The USMC has been diligent in resolving this matter quickly in order for Ivan to be released in time for the birth of his son. Ivan has been treated fairly, within the confines of the military, but there is a bigger picture here that is overlooked when focusing on an individual circumstance. The American public has been lied to and bullied by an administration with little regard for the welfare of the service men and women who put their lives on the line everyday. I ask that the American public demand an end to this war and then demand answers from the very government that started it."
As a counselor and a military mom, I find it extraordinary that the American public allows the Marine Corps to discharge this honorable young man with a Bad Conduct Discharge.
"We kill people in the name of keeping the peace an oxymoron if there ever was one. After months of contemplation I concluded I no longer wanted to contribute to the ultimate violence toward other human beings that war is." -Sgt. Kevin Benderman, U.S. Army, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
Kevin applied for CO status after serving one year in Iraq during which he witnessed homes bombed and people begging for food and drinking water from mud puddles. He saw the arm of an 8- or 9 year-old girl burned up to her shoulder and heard the troop executive officer say that the U.S. Army could not help as medical supplies were limited. Kevin refused a second tour to Iraq. He was court martialed and spent 15 months in jail. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.
"When you are over there, you are lower than dirt; you are expendable as a soldier in general, and as a woman, it’s worse." -Specialist Suzanne Swift, U.S. Army Military Police
Stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, Suzanne Swift was sexually harassed and assaulted by superiors. After returning from Iraq, she suffered a PTSD breakdown. Upon learning that her unit was to redeploy to Iraq, Suzanne went AWOL rather than subject herself to the horrors she experienced during her first tour of duty. She was arrested at her mother’s home in June 2006. In November, 2006 Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commander of Ft. Lewis, referred Swift’s case to a special court martial; this means an Article 32, the military form of a pre-trial, is not required. Charges include AWOL and Missing Movement.
After her court martial, Suzanne’s mother, Sarah Rich stated: "Suzanne faced her court martial with strength and respect. I was more than proud of her. She was sentenced to 30 days in prison and was stripped of all her rank. Being stripped of her rank was the most devastating thing for her. She is being held at the prison at Bangor Naval base in Washington. This will be the second Christmas the Army has taken Suzanne away from us. Christmas 2004 she was in Iraq."
I end with a quote from the U.S. Army’s First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first U.S. commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to the Iraq war and occupation. He is charged with "contemptuous words" towards President Bush and conduct unbecoming an officer; he faces over seven years in military prison.
Ehren Watada’s is the first military persecution of an objector for First Amendment speech since 1965:
"I [have] a radical idea born from the very concept of American service: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting. [This] is not an easy task. Soldiers must be aware that they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for individual action. They must remember that duty to the Constitution and the people supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. [They] must be willing to face ostracism by peers, worry over the survival of their families, and the loss of personal freedom. But they must also know that resisting an authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action."
Lt. Ehren Watada’s vision is one of radical American heroism. Will his words stimulate GI resistance to this war similar to the resistance of that other war in Vietnam?
Susan Galleymore is a “military mom”, GI Rights counselor and member of Courage to Resist. She can be reached at [email protected]