Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist for OaklandSeen. May 31, 2010
This memorial day, it is not enough to remember those killed in war. We need to remember that we are still at war. We are still sending men and women to fight, kill, and die in Afghanistan and Iraq in our name.
What many don’t realize is just how involuntary our military fighting these occupation wars on our behalf really is. Military programs such as the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) and "Stoploss" continue to press tens of thousands of troops into service long past their scheduled end of active duty, while record unemployment and cuts to social programs ensure quotas for fresh recruits are currently being met.
Some service members risk everything to speak out against the usually hidden realities of these wars. Some choose jail instead. These are the troops that the Oakland-based non-profit Courage to Resist works to provide political, moral, and when needed, legal support.
While the Army is currently reducing the use of the universally hated "Stoploss" policy of forcing soldiers to remain on active duty for over a year past their original active duty separation date, that is cold comfort to the tens of thousands still affected. One Iraq combat veteran used music to express his anger at being forced to return to Iraq last December. Army Specialist Marc Hall was jailed and shuffled between a half dozen jails from Georgia to Kuwait for months. His only "crimes" were producing an anti-"Stoploss" Hip Hop song, voicing opposition to redeploying to Iraq, and persistently seeking mental health care. Marc faced years in a military stockade for violating “good order and discipline” before his scheduled court martial at Camp Liberty, Iraq was called off then the Army backed down and discharged him.
Marc now joins the nearly half million other veterans whose new fight is to get adequate health care from the overstretched Veterans Administration (VA). The VA is enrolling 250 new patient every day, which has resulted in having to wait as long as six months for a doctor’s appointment.
This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of former soldiers who were discharged in the last few years, are contemplating a dreaded packet they received via FedEx recently. Having left the military behind, they are attempting to overcome significant employment and family challenges and move on with their lives. These packets, however, are from the St. Louis-based Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) command. They are involuntary orders to report for active duty and another deployment.
“If you get recalled my best advice is to follow your heart. Personally, I would not report,” shared a career military veteran and former IRR trainer who asked not be identified. In fact, half of those ordered to report will apply for waiver from service. These waivers are becoming harder to get as the occupations wear on.
Marine IRR member, and Courage to Resist activist, Benjamin "Benji" Lewis, believes:
“The question for IRR members is whether or not they should leave their new civilian lives behind so soon after being discharged to fight in illegal aggressions and occupation. The benefit is certainly not for veterans who, if they have not already been so, stand only to get wounded, killed or sustain psychological trauma in the form of PTSD. I encourage all IRR service members to start questioning what they are being told by a military system that will tell them anything to fill its quota."
According to the Army, over two thousand IRR members have already simply refused to report. For the first time, the Army is beginning to take action against these individuals by docking education benefits under the new "Post 9/11 GI Bill.
It’s safe to say that Oakland-native Alexis Hutchinson fell victim to the "poverty draft" when she enlisted in the Army as a cook. With historic levels of unemployment, the military is a tempting option for many–even if they wish they had better alternatives. Throw in a multi-billion dollar ad budget and thousands of fast-talking military recruiters that have their craft down to a science, it is no wonder that about 165,000 people will join up this year.
“I currently don’t have a family care plan, but they told me they did not care and for me to get ready to go to Afghanistan,” explained Spc. Alexis Hutchinson when she called Courage to Resist from her base outside of Savannah, Georgia. Last November, after her childcare plans fell through at the last minute, she was faced with the dilemma of having no one to take care of her infant son when she deployed. Despite having found her a lawyer, within a few days the Army had tossed this single mother in the stockade and turned her baby Kamani over to the county foster care system. It took a nationwide protest before the Army finally discharged Alex. If there is a better rebuttal to the military’s "We’re family friendly!" sales pitch, I’m unaware of it.
This Memorial Day over 200 U.S. war resisters continue to live and seek refuge in Canada. A half-dozen of these objectors have been deported over the last couple of years, but the majority continue to either live "underground" or fight their individual cases through lengthy appeals. Last week, the case of former Army Spc. Jeremy Hinzman was argued in Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals. At the same time, the Canadian Parliament debated a binding resolution that would require the conservative ruling government to allow Iraq War objectors to stay. If unsuccessful, these former soldiers will face deportation and court martial for desertion, as did recent San Francisco transplant Robin Long.
"People who committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than mine. I refused to participate in killing and got 15 months [in jail], but a First Infantry Division soldier, Spc. Belmor Ramos, was sentenced to only seven months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the case of four Iraqi men. Where is the justice? The system is not fair and impartial," noted Robin Long from the Navel Brig at Miramar near San Deigo before moving to the Bay Area following his release last July.
"Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living," is an appropriate slogan this Memorial Day. Army conscientious objector Spc. Nicole Mitchell, who currently sits in jail at the Silverdale, Washington brig would probably agree. Is it inevitable that our government’s policies of endless war and occupation will create new casualties for us to memorialize next year? We can start by supporting the troops who refuse to fight, and join them in taking a hard and difficult look at our nation’s priorities.
Jeff Paterson is the project director of the Oakland, California-based organization Courage to Resist, a national organization that supports military troops who refuse to fight. In 1990, Marine artilleryman Corporal Paterson became the first military service member to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq.