June 5, 2009

War Resister, Steve Yoczk: "Why I refused to fight."

I believe the most important aspect of the anti-war movement is to take the boots off the ground – no soldiers, no war.
If there was a collective “hell no” from the entire service, they would not be able to lock up each and every one of them – war’s over.
By Steve Yoczk. June 5, 2009
I am a former military servicemember who went AWOL rather than deploy to Iraq. This is the story of why I refused to fight.

I joined the Coast Guard Reserve at age 17 in May 2002 and served uneventfully until June 2005. I decided to switch to the Regular Army for the handful of obvious and universal reasons: money, lack of education, desire for good working skill. More than that, though, I wanted to be a part of something I felt was just and right, with the spirit of the Second World War and the beginning months of the Vietnam conflict in my head. I believed the Army to be an institution that stressed “think before you shoot”. I was told I would be training for communications with the 25 Foxtrot program, or Network Switching Systems Operator/Maintainer.

I was told many things by a recruiter I trusted not to lie to me since we both knew I’d already been in the service several years.

I soon realized my serious mistake when I arrived at the Warrior Transition Course (WTC) at Fort Knox, a prior-service training course. I spoke to one person who had tried to get into the Navy SEALs, and was now trying to become a Ranger. I asked him why, and his response was “I just want to kill Hadjis, man!”, with excitement in his voice. Others were re-signing to the military because of monetary reasons, mainly. Extra combat pay, separation from family pay, hazardous duty pay, and who knows how many other possibilities; men and women putting their lives on the line to help ease the shackles of our monetary system.

Probably the defining moment for me realizing I had made the wrong decision was our platoon commander, a Sergeant First Class, instructing us on tactics in movement and engaging the enemy. Near the end of the session, he spoke of prisoners, and explained “It’s just better to double tap them (double tap meaning shooting twice to kill) and walk away than to haul them back to have to deal with all the paperwork. Just please don’t do it in front of a reporter”. This was laughed at by the others, but I just stood in awe. This man was a combat veteran, with ranger and Special Forces tabs – what I used to think of as America’s Strongest and Brightest – explaining these things in the same everyday fashion you explain how to work a copy machine.

I finished the course and moved on to Fort Gordon, thinking things might change once I began training in my assigned course. I was placed in a prior service unit, and spoke with several veterans each day that had been deployed numerous times. Again I was schooled on the many benefits of being deployed in war, and more of the exact same reasons I heard at Fort Knox were repeated again by different people.

Halfway into the 20 week training course I realized the job I had signed up for no longer existed in the Army due to obsolete equipment. “Jobless” individuals were being trained anyway, and would be deployed anyway. This meant I would be doing any number of things from convoy escort to prisoner transport. I realized this would not be the last word that the Army would go back on, and knew that I had to get out before my life made a serious downturn if not a sudden end.

I began resisting in any way I could think of, after learning that the CO application process was rigged and that I would just draw unwanted attention on myself. I had spoken to several soldiers who had tried to apply, and their application was either thrown out, reasoned away with pro-Army talk, or they were put on hold for “review” while the soldier was deployed anyway. I tried gaining weight, I failed over 50 Physical Training (PT) tests (knowing the regulation was three failures and you went before the Commanding Officer for a “motivation check”, which never came), I would regularly disappear from duty during the day, and miss formations. On and on and on this went. After about eight months, I learned that the one thing keeping me on base, the PT Test, would have a regulation change for prior service members. This meant that the PT Test was no longer a requirement for graduation, and that I would soon be attached to a unit bound for Iraq.

Steve Yoczk while in the Coast Guard
My depression and desperation increased at this point, and I believed I had absolutely no other way out, so I attempted suicide. After a week of “therapy”, I was deemed still fit for duty, and so was returned to my unit and continued on my track to Iraq.

I learned of a friend who had gone to Canada shortly after this, and began speaking to him and members of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. I felt this was my last possible chance to avoid a seriously life changing event, and went to Canada in November of 2006.

I lived there until April of 2009, and turned myself in. I was discharged a week and a half later because I fell under the criteria for a quick discharge, since I never officially graduated my AIT Class.

I’m now living in the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Washington DC House, and am looking forward to sharing my story with the hopes that others who might be questioning their commitment like I did, will know that there is no shame in getting out before you’re sent to hell. I believe the most important aspect of the anti-war movement is to take the boots off the ground - no soldiers, no war. If there was a collective "hell no" from the entire service, they would not be able to lock up each and every one of them - war's over.

What’s happened so far and will probably continue to happen for some time is horrible, but the solution mentioned above is quite simple. The problem will be for those individuals who are perfectly capable of doing this thing to remove their mind from what I call the “consumer’s distraction complex” that we’ve all been programmed with, take a good, honest and empathetic look at what they are contributing to, and see the humanity in actions of resistance to these things. It could be over that quick.

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