Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By: Robyn Gee
While deployed in Iraq in 2006 and 2008, Specialist Byron Etta remembers his fellow soldiers wishing they were in Afghanistan. "They said we needed to be there to find and fight Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, rather than being in Iraq," he said.
Etta, 24, said he's mostly put the army life behind him since being honorably discharged as a conscientious objector for the United States Army. Currently a student at the University of Oregon, he was returning from a rock climbing expedition when he heard the news of Osama bin Laden's death.
"It was surreal, not in the way that you never thought that Osama bin Laden would be captured, but surreal that there were so many people celebrating the death of a person. I don't think I'd ever seen that in the American media - you always see it in other countries, not in America," said Etta.
Etta said he spent a total of 26 months in Iraq and witnessed American soldiers, Iraqi insurgents, and Iraqi civilians celebrate death with the same spirit of jubilation.
"After an IED [improvised explosive device] exploded on our convoy in January of 2009, you could hear celebratory shots being fired across the countryside," said Etta.
"Another time we'd shown up on the scene after a suicide bomber had exploded themselves. Some of the American soldiers were celebrating the death of the suicide bomber by kicking the guy's head around," he said.
Lastly, Etta described an incident during his first tour in Iraq in 2006. "We'd gotten into a fire fight - and one of the insurgents was killed. After that, the Iraqis were dragging him through the street while people were cheering for it," said Etta.
To Etta, who said he made the decision to become a conscientious objector after an explosion hit his truck, "it seemed almost inhuman."
"I think it's easier to look at death as a momentous occasion instead of being conflicted about the whole thing," he said. "Celebrating death is an easier route for most people."
When joining the army, Etta said he wanted to use the money he saved up eventually to go to medical school. As a medic in the army, he thought he would be helping people. "I didn't understand the fact that just being there with a green bag on your back would mark you as somebody to kill - like a medic - medics are directly targeted... Me being there perpetuated violence. I had no idea that that was going to be the case when I joined," he said.
"The majority of people I treated weren't American soldiers, but were people who had taken violent action against us and ended up having violent action taken against them and being hurt or killed," Etta pointed out.
When you've healed the enemy and been the target - it's a little hard to celebrate.
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