Editors note: This weeks guest rant was submitted by a former Marine
who happens to be a good friend of mine. I need to have a way for users
to submit some type of "bio" with their rants but for now this will
have to do
Reports from the Iraq front and a recent survey clearly indicate
growing psychological pressures and disillusionment among many of our
deployed troops. At the same time, more troops are seeking
conscientious objector status to get out the Army. According to
official Army statistics, the number of conscientious objectors has
tripled since the beginning of the Iraq War. Sixty soldiers applied for
conscientious objector status in 2003 and the numbers are on the rise
for 2004. The latest soldier who has won notoriety for declaring
himself a conscientious objector is Army Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia of the
1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment of the Florida National Guard.
Mejia, who’s been absent without leave for five months before he turned
himself in to authorities, insists that he can't return to Iraq because
he believes that the war against Iraq was driven by oil.
He also claims
to have suffered trauma from an ambush he witnessed and during which
innocent civilians were hit. Here you have an interesting mix of
political misgivings, combined with traumatic combat memories,
experienced by a noncom with several years in a grunt unit and who
never previously had a serious problem. The Mejia case and a few
others, such as paratroop Spc. Jeremy Hinzman, who moved to Canada to
avoid deployment, raise interesting questions. Is the status of
conscientious objector truly applicable in an all-volunteer military,
and how should it be dealt with? So far, the draft hasn't yet returned
to America and no U.S. citizen or resident alien is yet forced to join.
One should expect that soldiers, who voluntarily and consciously join
the ranks of America's combat troops, know what to expect when they
train for deployment. If nothing else they have to accept their
assigned missions and especially to protect their fellow troopers to
the best of their abilities. Saving your own butt and that of your
comrades outweighs all political considerations.
Having said that, I
also believe in justice and fairness for America's troops. Yes, a
close-in combat experience can leave trauma and psychological residue
on good people. Some might not ever want to touch a gun again – that's
okay. If a soldier suffers a breakdown, he/she should obviously be
afforded every opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation. I don't
believe, however, that a soldier should have an immediate option to
leave the service or turn conscientious objector. If front-line
psychological rehabilitation fails, the next step could be serving in
more rearward areas, not in direct-fire combat.
Fact is that in
guerrilla warfare, no one is totally safe – convoys, supply dumps, and
headquarters facilities are very lucrative targets for the insurgents.
The other option for conscientious objection to serving with a weapon
is to give COs a chance to help their fellow comrades as medics, as one
highly decorated Nam vet reminded me. “The CO would often find himself
in the middle of a rice paddy, trying to patch up Johnny while the
bullets were flying around everybody's ears.” To be very honest, I
would highly respect and honor every CO who chooses to do that for
his/her buddies. That takes guts! Although I'm not a political fan of
the occupation quagmire in Iraq, I acknowledge that our military
leadership has a problem. It can't afford to bleed excessive personnel
strength through over-diagnosis of combat-related stress and by
accepting countless requests for conscientious objector status. Any
careless policy moves could rapidly open the gates to serious personnel
meltdown and quality erosion. With more and more people clamoring to
get out of uniform, despite astronomic bonuses, pay raises and benefits
bonanzas, I'm afraid that a big surprise could be in store after the
elections. That surprise could be – the DRAFT. And with it,
conscientious objection will become a valid issue once more.
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