It was exciting for me to meet these folks, as Courage To Resist was how I first heard about Iraq War resisters. I admire them so much, and feel honoured to be working alongside them.
Two of the Courage To Resist organizers attended a Support Campaign meeting after the Ottawa trip. They led a small ceremony, awarding "peace medals" to all the resisters in the room.
One of them - I'm not sure of his name, and I don't want to get it wrong - was a resister himself. He told us he had refused to fight in the first Gulf War, and served nine months in prison. When he said that, a small gasp shot through the room. I am awed by someone who has the strength to make that choice.
This person talked about the many forms resistance can take. Some active service people are forming IVAW chapters on their bases, and are being punished internally for that. Others are refusing to participate in actions against civilians, an astonishingly brave form of resistance, as they are subjected to physical, psychological and financial punishment. Others, like Ivan Brobeck (among others), have gone to prison. And of course, many have chosen to come to Canada.
Here's a story about resistance. It's being reported as a "mutiny". But what is a mutiny if not the refusal to fight? I'll use the excerpt and commentary as reported in Editor & Publisher, a steadfast truth-teller and voice for democracy and peace. My sincerest thanks to editor Greg Mitchell, who writes the blog Pressing Issues, for that.
While violence is down in Iraq, Americans continue to die and fall badly wounded, and suffer severe stress and trauma caused by 15-month tours of duty. A remarkable article on Friday in the Army Times is titled: "Not us. We're not going: Soldiers in 2nd Platoon, Charlie 1-26 stage a 'mutiny' that pulls the unit apart."
Here are two excerpts. The first describes only one of several incidents that drove many soldiers to "stand down." The second looks at how some responded. The entire lengthy piece by staff writer Kelly Kennedy can be found [here].
Lt. Col. John Reynolds replaced Lt. Col. Eric Schacht as battalion commander July 8. Schacht left after his son died of a heart condition in Germany, the same day Charlie Company lost five men in the Bradley. Even with the high operations tempo and the loss of so many men, Reynolds called the changeover "easy."
"It was the best transition you could get," he said.
But within days, he would lose five men, including a respected senior non-commissioned officer. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney, Alpha Company’s first sergeant, was known as a family man and as a good leader because he was intelligent and could explain things well. But Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rausch of Charlie Company's 1st Platoon, a good friend of McKinney's, said McKinney told him he felt he was letting his men down in Adhamiya.
"First Sergeant McKinney was kind of a perfectionist and this was bothering him very much," Rausch said. On July 11, McKinney was ordered to lead his men on a foot patrol to clear the roads of IEDs. Everyone at Apache heard the call come in from Adhamiya, where Alpha Company had picked up the same streets Charlie had left. Charlie's 1st Platoon had also remained behind, and Rausch said he would never forget the fear he heard in McKinney’s driver's voice:
"This is Apache seven delta," McKinney’s driver said in a panicked voice over the radio. "Apache seven just shot himself. He just shot himself. Apache seven shot himself."
Rausch said there was no misunderstanding what had happened.
According to Charlie Company soldiers, McKinney said, "I can't take it anymore," and fired a round. Then he pointed his M4 under his chin and killed himself in front of three of his men.
At Old Mod, Charlie Company was called back in for weapons training, [Spc. Gerry] DeNardi said. They were told it was an accident. Then they were told it was under investigation. And then they were told it was a suicide. Reynolds confirmed that McKinney took his own life.
.... 2nd Platoon had gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya — that several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre.
"We said, 'No.' If you make us go there, we're going to light up everything," DeNardi said. "There's a thousand platoons. Not us. We're not going."
They decided as a platoon that they were done, DeNardi and Cardenas said, as did several other members of 2nd Platoon. At mental health, guys had told the therapist, "I'm going to murder someone." And the therapist said, "There comes a time when you have to stand up," 2nd Platoon members remembered. For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be "unplugged."
[Sgt. Tim] Ybay had gone to battalion to speak up for his guys and ask for more time. But when he came back, it was with orders to report to Old Mod. Ybay said he tried to persuade his men to go out, but he could see they were not ready.
"It was like a scab that wouldn't heal up," Ybay said. "I couldn't force them to go out. Listening to them in the mental health session, I could hear they're not ready."
At 2 a.m, Ybay said, he'd found his men sitting outside smoking cigarettes. They could not sleep. Some of them were taking as many as 10 sleeping pills and still could not rest. The images of their dead friends haunted them. The need for revenge ravaged them.
But Ybay was still disappointed in his men. "I had a mission," he said. "The company had a mission. We still had to execute. But I understood their side, too."
This is a very grim fact to face. In the midst of such madness, suicide becomes a desperate form of resistance.
Jason Scheuerman, 20 years old, was clearly at high risk for suicide. The US Army sent him to Iraq anyway. Now he's dead - technically by suicide, but the US Army handed him the gun, literally and figuratively.
Private First Class Jason Scheuerman nailed a suicide note to his barracks closet in Iraq, stepped inside and shot himself.
"Maybe finaly I can get some peace," said the 20-year-old, misspelling "finally" but writing in a neat hand.
His parents didn't find out about the note for well over a year, and only then when it showed up in a government envelope in his father's rural North Carolina mailbox.
The one-page missive was among hundreds of pages of documents the soldier's family obtained and shared with The Associated Press after battling a military bureaucracy they feel didn't want to answer their questions, especially this: Why did Jason Scheuerman have to die?
What the soldier's father, Chris, would learn about his son's final days would lead the retired Special Forces commando, who teaches at Fort Bragg, to take on the very institution he's spent his life serving -- and ultimately prompt an investigation by the Army Inspector General's office.
The documents, obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Chris Scheuerman, reveal a troubled soldier kept in Iraq despite repeated signs he was going to kill himself, including placing the muzzle of his weapon in his mouth multiple times.
Jason Scheuerman's story -- pieced together with interviews and information in the documents -- demonstrates how he was failed by the very support system that was supposed to protect him. In his case, a psychologist told his commanders to send him back to his unit because he was capable of feigning mental illness to get out of the Army.
He is not alone. At least 152 U.S. troops have taken their own lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since the two wars started, contributing to the Army's highest suicide rate in 26 years of keeping track. [Emphasis added.] For the grieving parents, the answers don't come easily or quickly.
For Jason Scheuerman, death came on July 30, 2005, around 5:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after his first sergeant told the teary-eyed private that if he was intentionally misbehaving so he could leave the Army, he would go to jail where he would be abused.
When the call came out over the unit's radios that there had been a death, one soldier would later tell investigators he suspected it was Scheuerman.
More on Iraq War suicides here. The Army says there's no connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and the highest troop suicide rate since the Pentagon started keeping track.