May 6, 2009

Benji Lewis, IRR Resister, “it is not natural for a human being to take another human being’s life.”

photo by Max Brown

Benji Lewis, an Iraq War veteran, spoke to the LBCC community as part of his 15 stop "We Can Say No" tour in Oregon. Since his re-activation orders were cancelled last month, he is helping other members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) understand their options if they are involuntarily recalled to active duty.

He shared some of his life changing experiences with his audience.

His unit was sent to Iraq, however, and served as mortar patrol in the first siege in Fallujah. One day, after Lewis had spent days without sleep, a woman whose family had been killed by his mortar fire asked him for help. Orders from above told Lewis he could not transport her to the Red Cross. She was handed a bottle of water and sent back into the city – “a breech… a war crime,” Lewis said.

Although the incident with the woman stuck with Lewis, What he calls his “Buddha moment” happened during his second tour in Fallujah. While guarding a gate outside of the city, Lewis had to turn away a man because the gates had been closed for the day. The man, angered by this, told Lewis he just wanted to go home and see his family. Lewis looked at the man and told him that there was nothing he could do about it. He told the man that he wanted to go home as well. The man turned to Lewis and said, “ I have this great idea. Why don’t you all go home, and then I’ll go home.”

“This made so much sense to me,” Lewis said to the crowd. “When I came home, I said I was never going to Iraq again because it was madness over there… Americans were dying and Iraqis were dying, for a senseless conflict, for profit, for other people.”

Last October, after being honorably discharged in 2007, Lewis said that he was called back from the Individual Ready Reserve, and knew that he wasn’t going back. He showed up for a physical in Missouri to prove he was fit for duty and to let the Marine Corp. know that he was not going back.

“I fought for my country, now I am going to fight for myself… it was time to fight for my brothers and sisters in the military, to let them know that they don’t have to stand for the injustices that are going on.

Lewis said he publicly refused his activation and began his “We Can Say No” campaign. For a while, he faced court-martial. However, on April 16, while speaking in Olympia, his orders were canceled.

“So, this big campaign has been a huge success. Not only do I get my orders canceled, but also I tell recruiters all the time that I feel bad for them. They are trying to get two people into the military a month, and I am able to talk all these other people out of it,” Lewis said.

-thanks to the Ryan Henson  LBCC Commuter

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