Soldiers say Im not going back

These days, GI rights counseling coordinator Bill Galvin is getting at least four or five calls a day from soldiers saying, “I’ve gotten orders to go to Iraq and I don’t want to go.” In the last few weeks, Galvin has seen a marked increase in the calls to his section of the GI Rights Hotline, at the Center for Conscience and War in Washington, D.C. Many are from people who have already served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The things they have witnessed and experienced – they don’t want to do it again,” and many question the entire war policy, he told the World in a recent phone interview. People who are being sent back are saying, “Uh-uh, I’m not going.”

Galvin said his office, which handles about 10 percent of the national GI Rights Hotline calls, currently has 30 to 40 conscientious objector applicant cases pending. That doesn’t count people who requested information, or those who “find some other way out,” including going AWOL, Galvin said.

Nationally, the hotline has been getting an average of 3,000 calls a month so far this year, up from a 2,400 monthly average last year, according to GI Rights Program Coordinator Teresa Panepinto, at the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors, based in the Bay Area.

Lenore Yarger, a GI rights counselor at Quaker House in Fayetteville, N.C., says this January her office had the largest call volume since the hotline started in 1995 – 220 calls in which counselors actually talked to people. That does not count messages for which no direct contact was made. The numbers have continued high since then, ranging from 150 to over 200 a month that “we actually talk to,” she told the World. “The highest levels are becoming more and more normal.” The callers want to know how they can get discharged from the military. Increasingly they are asking about medical and psychiatric discharges, she said. Her office is currently working with seven or eight conscientious objector applicants.

Redeployment orders are taking a tremendous toll on people, Yarger said. They may have already served in Afghanistan, then been sent to Iraq, then are being sent back again, with four months or less between. “These are people returning from combat, not liking what they’ve seen, and not wanting to go back,” she said. “What we see increasingly is, they don’t like what they’ve been asked to do and don’t want to continue.”

“It’s not just Abu Ghraib,” she added. “They’re seeing civilians and children killed. It really bothers them.” Post-traumatic stress syndrome is a growing issue, she said.

Vietnam veteran Barry Romo says his organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is getting “numerous” calls and e-mails from troops asking about everything from conscientious objector status to medical discharges. A major refrain, he says, is “I don’t want to go back on a second tour.”

Army units that completed a year in combat are now being sent back for more. One Pennsylvania unit that had its Iraq deployment renewed has now served there more than 500 days straight, Romo noted. Another unit served a year in Afghanistan, came home, then 90 days later was sent to Iraq. Earlier this month the Pentagon ordered that soldiers whose service is about to end cannot leave if their units are ordered to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Under this “stop loss” order, these soldiers will have to remain through the deployment, which could be another year or more, and up to three months after they return. An earlier “stop loss” order issued last fall applied to troops already serving in Iraq.

“It’s absolutely immoral,” Romo told the World. During the Vietnam War, people served their one year and it was over, he said. “Now, they’re facing never-ending war.” The latest stop loss order affects 40,000 people who should be able to retire or be released, he said. Instead, they are being held against their will.

Addressing President Bush, Romo asked angrily, “You keep talking about how patriotic the troops are. Why aren’t you saying there will be no back-to-back tours, no extended tours, no second tours?”

Even 30-year-plus Army “lifers” are complaining, Romo said. The e-mails he is seeing are upset about “everything from ‘war is wrong,’ to ‘I don’t want to kill people,’ to ‘I spent my time over there and I don’t want to go back.’”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.click here for Spanish text