By Bob Meola, Courage to Resist. September 28, 2012
“Courage to Resist helped me in many ways…and just altogether being excellent. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for everything!”
I recently interviewed Army War Resister, Skyler James. Skyler joined the army in October, 2006. Her experience in the army facing harassment and a death threat for being an open lesbian and hearing soldiers brag about the inhuman and criminal things they did in Iraq and then being told she would be deployed to Afghanistan, even though she should have been discharged for being gay, until the time she went AWOL in October, 2007, about a year after joining it and her experience living in Canada seeking refugee status and hoping not to be deported, can be read at Skyler James resists war, anti-gay harassment and in our recent book, About Face, Military Resisters Turn Against War. That story left off in August of 2008. This is an update on War Resister, Skyler James in her own words.
“Upon deciding to return to the US from Canada this May, Courage to Resist helped me in many ways, like helping me find an attorney, assistance in finding mental health providers, financially helping me… as well as ongoing support and just altogether being excellent. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for everything!
“By the end of 2010, I was starting to prepare myself for the chance that I might have to leave Canada. At the end of 2011, I pretty much had made up my mind, I was going to leave on my terms—not have someone tell me, ‘You have to go.’ I started preparing for my departure. I made sure I had a job and was earning enough money so I’d have something to fall back on in emergencies. As the months progressed, in May, this year, I gave my resignation to my employer and prepared to go to the border and turn myself in.
“I was in Ottawa. I went to the Alexander Bay crossing into New York. They asked me what I was doing. It’s a border you have to drive across. My Canadian friends had parked about a mile away because they didn’t want to have to drive across the bridge and be searched and drive back again and be searched.
“I said that I didn’t know that I couldn’t walk across. I let them know that I was AWOL and that I was turning myself in and that Fort Drum was waiting for me and they were going to come pick me up. My lawyer had contacted them and let them know that I’d be turning myself in that day, May 21st, and they were expecting me.
“They took me in and started processing me and finger printing me and took my baggage and had me turn off my electronics so I wasn’t allowed to have any contact with anyone. They searched and found a warrant for me. I was sitting in an office. They called Fort Drum and in two hours they [the military] came and picked me up. It was at least 3:30 [P.M.] by then. It took about two hours to get to Fort Drum. A soldier M.P. and a civilian liaison officer came to get me.
“At the M.P. headquarters, they left me in a jail cell where I spent the night. Next day, around 9:00 A.M., the civilian liaison came back and took me to connect with a military flight to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where I’d gone AWOL from.
“That flight was later that evening around 5:00 P.M. I was escorted to the flight by the civilian liaison. He and police officers stayed until my plane took off. I made my connecting flight in Chicago, to Nashville.
“Two soldiers from my unit were there to get me in Nashville. One was a soldier who had been there when I went AWOL. That was a surprise. I’d figured everyone who’d been there was gone. They drove me back to Fort Campbell. It was about an hour’s drive. From there, they took me to a room that I stayed the night in. The woman who had been there when I went AWOL said they would begin in-processing me in the morning.
“The next morning, they never came. They came that the day after that. I didn’t have any sheets or pillow–just a mattress. I didn’t know where I was. They didn’t take care of me for about 48 hours. No one came to make sure I ate. For the first 24 hours, no one brought me food or water. I had a sink and a toilet. I didn’t have a cup. There was a shower. No towels. No toilet paper. Nothing.
“I was issued a meal card around noon on the second day I woke up there. They took me to the in-processing, they gave me a meal card but I didn’t have a way to get to the DFAC [dining facility]—the cafeteria. It was about an hour’s walk or 45 minutes if you walk fast. Fort Campbell is huge. I hadn’t eaten since a hot dog in the airport in Chicago two days earlier.
“I talked to some other people in the barracks and sometimes I got rides to DFAC and sometimes I didn’t. That went on for three meals a day for over three months.
“On the Memorial Day weekend, I was assaulted and woke up around 8:00 A.M. the next morning, which was Tuesday due to the long weekend, with scrapes and bruises and whatnot all over my body. Most of the damage was on my face (right side eye area) and I went to the first aide station and saw medics (some of which were involved in the incident) saying that all that had happened was that I fell and that I needed no further medical care. I wanted to speak to a real doctor, due to not remembering anything, so I was then taken by my company XO to the hospital on base (BACH hospital which is Blanchfield Army something hospital), at which point I saw a specialty doctor. I had MRIs and CTs and came out with a concussion and a finger sprain that didn’t heal right and now has arthritis. I have memory issues and had vision problems for a couple months. There’s not much I remember. I just remember hanging out and then nothing until the next morning. The case was closed due to all involved collaborating a fall and no one seeing anything.
“I was just going back and forth figuring out what they were going to charge me with—possible court martial and jail time. In the end, there was no court martial or jail time.
“Captain Coleman is a trial defense counsel at Fort Campbell. He was the attorney assigned to me at the end of July. All of June and July, I didn’t know what was going on. At the end of June, they said they’d charge me with AWOL. In the second week of July, I had to meet with the Lt. Colonel Commander of my battalion. He said they were revoking the other charges of AWOL read to me by Captain Blue. The Lieutenant Colonel said they wanted to charge me with desertion which could have hefty consequences.
“After three and a half months of being back in the states and doing paper work to do a Chapter 10 in lieu of a court martial, Coleman finally put in the paper for the Chapter 10 discharge in lieu of court martial. About a week later, Adrian Haddad, my civilian attorney let me know that it was approved.