As I travel the country telling the stories of the soldiers I profile in my book Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, one question recurs regularly from the audiences I speak with and it is a question that is all-but-impossible to answer: How many soldiers oppose the war in Iraq?
Today we're closer to an educated guess.
We know that of the million soldiers who have cycled through the Afghanistan and Iraq war theaters, only a tiny fraction have made the bold and brave move to publicly reject the Iraq War and refuse to deploy or redeploy to the war. But from those who have come out publicly against the war, we hear stories of their compatriots in uniform who are quietly opposed to the Bush Administration's failed Iraq policy. These soldiers may be just waiting out their tours of duty, counting the days while trying to stay alive. Others may be considering damaging themselves slightly in order to be sent back to Germany or home for treatment. Still others are deciding to fail drug tests in order to force a discharge order before they face deployment. And of course some are doing the jobs they signed up for, but out of a sense of duty to the armed services and their colleagues-in-arms, not because they subscribe to perpetually changing war rationalizations coming out of the White House.
This week we've learned that the Marines sought and received approval to recall thousands of troops to active duty. Why? Because the service suffers a shortage of volunteers for Iraq duty. The Army has been engaged in forcing troops back to active duty since the invasion. Already some 14,000 Army troops have been shipped to Iraq under such orders. We can assume that plenty of them are not gung-ho about Bush's war.
These recall affect soldiers in what's known as the Individual Ready Reserve, comprising troops who are not active duty service men and women but nonetheless have not fulfilled the entire eight-year commitment to possible active duty status that is obligatory when one joins the military. Under usual circumstances, when the armed services do not face shortfalls or a lack of volunteers for needed duties, soldiers serve four years of that commitment as active duty troops and then can elect to serve the remaining four in the Ready Reserve, a role that requires showing up for duty only one day a month - unless they are involuntarily recalled.
The fact that both the Marines and the Army are faced with dipping into the Ready Reserve to force soldiers back to Iraq is another indication that more and more soldiers are opposed to the war. What will be important to watch now is how many refuse this recall to active duty.
I know at least one who says he'll refuse. I met him near his base in Heidelberg, Germany as he was about to go off active duty.
"I'm susceptible for the next five years to the Inactive Reserves.," he told me. "These guys can call me up anytime. But I won't come back."
"What will happen if they call you back?" I asked.
"You'll see me on the news. I won't be back. I'll be a statistic of a guy who doesn't show up." His voice was quiet as he said again, "I'm not coming back." Steven Casey told me he's going to college when he gets home, an education he'll pay for with the money the Army guaranteed him when he enlisted. "I did get what I was promised," he said about his benefits package. "I got everything they said I was going to get," he said about the tuition money. "I got a hunk of money for school, and with that I got social anxiety and I got this cool skin rash that I'm never going to get rid of. I've got a social disorder. I yell at my wife. I don't think I won. There are a lot of things that came with this that are irreparable and I'm going to have the rest of my life."
He said he feels as if his life has been on pause.
"I'm not giving up my school to go do this again - an unjustified war for these evil people. I'll go to jail. I don't care. I'm not going back. Jail is not something you want to have on your record, but neither is unjustified murder. I would rather go to jail and not kill anyone, than to go over there and have a chance to kill an innocent person again. It's not going to happen. I'll do anything not to go back. There're many avenues, I'll think of one of them, one of them is going to work for me. I'm not going back." His voice got louder and stronger. "I'm not going back to work for these people. I've been to war. I was an eighteen-year-old kid who went to war. I'm done."
Steven Casey and the other courageous soldiers rejecting this war need our loud and active support.