Support Ryan Johnson, Imprisoned War Resister

Mar 22, 2017 | 6 comments

“I am looking forward to getting out of the brig and being with my wife again. … I’m not sorry for my beliefs and refusing to participate in an illegal war.”

Courage to Resist. March 23, 2017

We at Courage to Resist are reaching out to you to help imprisoned Army soldier Ryan Johnson and his wife Jenna. We’re helping them get on their feet upon Ryan’s expected May release from Miramar Brig in Southern California. Your support is critical to help them begin their next chapter.

Please donate to Ryan's support fund

Please support US military war resister Ryan by making a tax-deductible donation to his support fund, hosted by Courage to Resist. Doing so will help Ryan through the remainder of his prison sentence, and help Ryan and his wife Jennifer relocate after his release. Donate today: couragetoresist.org/support-ryan

Image: Ryan back in uniform, while awaiting court martial, after having been AWOL for over a decade.

Ryan Johnson hasn’t gotten many easy breaks. He lost his father at the age of three. Growing up he would face years of abuse at the hands of a new stepfather. As a teen Ryan escaped into patterns of drug abuse, self-harm, and finally dropped out of high school. Now he endures insult of military imprisonment after literal injury serving the US armed forces. This pall of unfortunate circumstances doesn’t mean there isn’t light in Ryan’s life. He has persevered, with his compassion, kindness, and conscience intact.

Another bright spot appeared in Ryan’s life when he met Jen at a concert in 2000, through a mutual friend. They bonded immediately, and they’ve been inseparable since. In Jen’s statement to Ryan’s court martial judge she shared a touching story. Early in their relationship Jen was driving when Ryan turned and thanked her. “For what?” she queried. “For inspiring me to want to be a better person”. Ryan had found hope. Soon after they planned to marry, using their union as a fulcrum toward a new start for the both of them.

In spite of their thriving relationship, work options in their California valley town were sparse. The US Army was an escape route that promised deliverance for Ryan and his new wife. In 2003 Ryan Johnson and the United States Army entered an agreement. The Army never intended to honor its agreement (which his superiors confirmed), yet expected 100% unconditional compliance from Ryan.

The US Army promised Ryan a lot of things it wouldn’t deliver, and delivered a lot of things it didn’t promise. Ryan was promised a non-combat supply logistics career. He got a transfer to a non-supply combat unit. He was promised military healthcare. He received medical malpractice- an untreated spinal cord injury with 2 crushed vertebrae. There was also a broken jaw, nine missing teeth, and a floating bone fragment from a dental procedure gone awry. Ryan was promised honorable service to his country. He instead got orders to an illegal war, injuries be damned. With a year’s worth of opiates and a duffel bag, the Army was set on sending a broken soldier to a war zone. Ryan and his wife of now 15 years were forced to make an impossible decision. The stakes were high: Ryan’s well-being, that of Ryan’s fellow soldiers, and his very freedom.

Ryan made the decision not to go to war; he and Jen packed their car in the wee hours and drove off base. With assistance from the GI Rights Hotline, they learned their options. They found they weren’t alone in resistance. They attended a court-martial for Navy war resister Pablo Paredes. They met Army conscientious objector Camilo Mejia. They met prominent Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan. They were seeing resistance was possible.

When the Johnsons didn’t feel safe at home in California, they packed up and sought refuge in Canada. Ryan and Jen became active among a tight-knit group of US war resisters in Toronto. They helped launch a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War for GI’s north of the border. Ryan went on a Canadian national tour to bolster support for US resisters in the country.

 

A few of Ryan’s prison drawings that he has sent Jenna

The refuge Canada offered some 50,000 Vietnam-era war resisters vanished for post-9/11 resisters. US military figures show over 50,000 US troops abandoned their posts between 2001 and 2012. In spite of this, “fewer than 5 percent of deserters received a court-martial, and fewer than one percent served prison time.” It was a different story for war resisters who fled to Canada. The conservative Harper government began to purge asylum-seeking US war resisters. “All of the deserters deported by the Harper administration were taken into US military custody, and all but one were sentenced to prison.”[1] This disparity reflects a punitive US military policy toward troops taking conscientious positions against war, as illustrated by Ryan’s current incarceration.

Ryan, despite circumstances is doing pretty well and keeping a positive attitude. Upon returning to duty last year he immediately built a close rapport with fellow soldiers. During his court martial a line of soldiers, including four non-commissioned officers, testified as witness to his strong character. So many in fact the judge turned several away due to time constraints. Ryan is currently awaiting a meeting with his commanding officer to get a ‘Brown Badge’ designation, indicating he poses ‘zero security risk’. He works hard to fulfill his duties in the brig kitchen. Ryan is able to call Jenna every other day for 30 minutes. He is getting his forklift operating credential while inside, which he plans to utilize once free in a supply and logistics career.

Ryan shared, “I am looking forward to getting out of the brig and being with my wife again. Here in the brig things have been ok, mostly just uneventful. I am sorry things didn’t work out in Canada and while I apologize for the way I went about things, I’m not sorry for my beliefs and refusing to participate in an illegal war.”

Jen lives once again in California’s San Joaquin valley and works as a nanny with her mother. She recently completed schooling to become a medical assistant. Jen and her mother make a monthly 5 ½ hour journey to the Miramar brig in northern San Diego County. On Fridays they drive south and stay in a hotel. Saturday and Sunday Jen visits the brig where she is able to sit across a table from Ryan and hold his hands. They have two hours together. Sometimes she is able to get an extra hour, considering she has driven so far. Jen makes the long trip home Sunday evenings.

Ryan and Jen are both counting the days until his May release. They plan to relocate to the Denver area soon after. They will be new to the Mile High City, but they are eager to secure housing, find work, and to get connected as quickly as possible. After 15 years, taking their first steps toward a life of freedom is long overdue.

With your support, Courage to Resist has offered a helping hand in the past. With your help today we will help Ryan and Jenna toward their much-delayed futures. If you are able to support please donate. If you are in the Denver area and able to offer housing, employment, or personal support for Ryan & Jenna’s transition, please contact [email protected]

[1]http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/02/american-military-deserters-canada.html

Image: Ryan anti-war leafleting in Toronto, Canada, August 2006 (Photo: Michael Macor)

Here’s a video of Ryan shortly after arriving in Canada over ten years ago:

Please donate to Ryan's support fund

Please support US military war resister Ryan by making a tax-deductible donation to his support fund, hosted by Courage to Resist. Doing so will help Ryan through the remainder of his prison sentence, and help Ryan and his wife Jennifer relocate after his release. Donate today: couragetoresist.org/support-ryan