August 12, 2005

Commentary:

A veteran of the Iraq War addresses potential recruits

By Camilo E. Mejia

I’d like to tell young people what awaits them if they join the military and go to Iraq.

You will find yourself patrolling the alleyways and streets of Baghdad or Fallujah. Improvised explosive devices will be going off. You will see some of your fellow soldiers get blown up. And you yourself may get seriously injured or die. Your whole mission will be to get back home alive in one piece.

It is only when you — if you are among the lucky ones — make it home, when you yourself are away from the inferno you just left, that you start asking the questions: the “why” and “was it worth it” questions.

I know.

I’ve been in the military for more than 10 years, serving as an infantryman and later as a reservist with the Florida National Guard on active duty in Iraq.

It is only when we try to find answers to the questions that haunt us that we begin to question our participation in the war — as a military, as soldiers, as individuals.

Sometimes it takes years. In other cases, like my own and those of some other veterans I’ve talked with, the realization hits us right away.

That realization is that we were used and abused, that we signed to protect America and

fight for freedom, but the government tricked us. Instead, we realize we are killing and being killed so that President Bush can strut and corporations can haul off the profits.

When people see service men and women return from the war, and they count all the limbs and see no physical injuries, they figure all is well. They could not be more wrong. Many people who have been to war know that war cannot ever be left behind. It stays in us: the images, the smells, the sounds, the things we did and, what’s worse, the things we failed to do.

Recruiting numbers for the armed forces are down, and the military is working hard to appeal to our young folks to enlist.

During a June 17 news conference at Ft. Meade, Md., Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, leader of the Army recruiting command, said Army recruiters simply want to tell their story.

What the recruiters are failing to tell in their stories, however, are the stories of the dead and wounded soldiers. Or the post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. Or Iraqi civilian casualties, which may exceed 100,000 and counting.

Recruiters aren’t talking about the lack of purpose for this war, or about the thousands of service members who are deciding not to fight. Or about those of us who are speaking out against this illegal war of aggression.

Those who have already been recruited and who have already served in war and are speaking against the Iraq occupation, we, too, are troops. And we, too, have an Army story to tell.

Camilo E. Mejia is a former prisoner of conscience, Iraq war veteran, war resister and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (www.ivaw.net). Camilo’s conscientious objector application is still pending. He served nine months in confinement for refusing to return to Iraq after a two-week leave. He can be reached at: pmproj@progressive.org.

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