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Deserter - Idiot? Coward? Politico?

I have received a nice batch of emails this morning asking if I had read this article:

GI to test morality of war
By Michael Martinez - Tribune national correspondent
Published March 15, 2004

NEW YORK -- In Iraq last April, freshly promoted Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia led squads of Florida National Guard soldiers in the fight against insurgents in the deadly Sunni triangle.

But Mejia became increasingly pained by his war experiences, and when he went on leave in the autumn, he decided not to come back. The staff sergeant--one of about 600 soldiers counted as AWOL by the Army during home leaves from Iraq--eventually was labeled a deserter.

...At a time when polls indicate that Americans' support for the war is slipping, Mejia intends to seek conscientious-objector status to avoid a court-martial.

First, I don't know what polls slipping and some guy trying to avoid a court-martial have to do with each other. Apparently, the Tribune seeks to make this a political issue when the soldier is accusing his commanders and fellow soldiers of war crimes, endangering soldiers in order to get medals, and needlessly endangering Iraqi civilians during combat operations.

...In an interview with the Tribune, Mejia, 28, of Miami, said he found the war and many of his combat orders morally questionable and ultimately unacceptable.

...Mejia accuses commanders of using GIs as "bait" to lure out Iraqi fighters so that U.S. soldiers could win combat decorations. He also says operations were conducted in ways that sometimes risked injuring civilians. He has accused his battalion and company commanders of incompetence and has reiterated other guardsmen's complaints about being poorly equipped.

Those commanders, however, defended their conduct. His immediate commander described Mejia as a poorly performing soldier who "lost his nerve" as bloodshed intensified in one of Iraq's more violent cities, Ramadi.

Perhaps the turning point for Mejia was the day in Iraq when he was ordered to shoot at Iraqis protesting and hurling grenades toward his position from about 75 yards away, which he considered too far of a distance to be a real threat. Mejia and his men opened fire on one, and he fell, his blood pooling around him.

"It was the first time I had fired at a human being," Mejia recalled. "I guess you could say it was my initiation at killing a human being. . . . One thing I ask myself a lot, `Did I hit him?'

"It was part of a general feeling that we had no right to be there, and every killing, whether provoked or not provoked, was unjustified because we had no right to be there."

His commanders, however, said the orders to shoot were justified to protect American personnel.

Okay, still with me here? If someone threw a rock at me from 75 yards, I might not be that concerned. But a grendade? And I get an order to shoot back?

Shooting someone is never easy, even when they are shooting at you, trying to kill you, trying to kill your team. I might understand this - maybe even support it - were Mejia a brand new private and not a seasoned soldier and leader.

...After 200 missions between last April and February, mostly in Ramadi, the battalion received 39 Purple Hearts, a combat decoration for wounded soldiers, Mirabile said. Eleven more are expected, he said. No one was killed.

More than half of those Purple Hearts were awarded to Charlie Company, where Mejia was a squad leader of seven to nine soldiers.

Of the 127 men in C Company, 98 participated in welcome-home ceremonies at Ft. Stewart, Ga., earlier this month. The remainder were "28 casualties and one deserter," said its commander, Capt. Tad Warfel, 39, a full-time Florida Guardsman.

In seeking conscientious-objector status, Mejia is taking a route used frequently during the Vietnam era by draft resisters and one that's still offered to today's all-volunteer soldiers. A handful of soldiers left the Army with that status last year.

Mejia wants an honorable discharge, with full benefits. Warfel, a former aide to the Florida National Guard's top commander, wants Mejia court-martialed and punished severely, including a dishonorable discharge.

For the case of a Squad Leader deserting, abandoning his men, he deserves nothing less than prison.

This entire article is a joke. A Staff Sergeant and Squad Leader makes claims about un-necessary action taken against Iraqis who happen to be throwing grenades. Then, he leaves his men and doesn't come back. Now, we are getting to the real issue here.

...What especially disturbed him, he said, was that after his squad celebrated its survival back at a post, a platoon sergeant relayed a message from a commander stating the squad should have stayed in the firefight and called for reinforcements.

"They were doing everything to put soldiers in harm's way and against military doctrine and practice in order to instigate a fight," he said.

Warfel disagreed and said an infantryman's job is to "look for contact."

"So, if he thought it was not a good order, that's too bad. As a commander, I don't question orders ... and I don't expect anybody below me to question my orders.

"It's not the infantryman's job to hightail it out of the area. I would berate anyone who didn't close in and kill the enemy," he said.

Mejia went AWOL on Oct. 16 after he was allowed to return to the U.S. to renew his permanent resident card, he said.

Born in Nicaragua, Mejia arrived in the United States with his mother, now a U.S. citizen.

While home, he called the Army several times seeking a discharge based on a regulation limiting non-citizens' service in the U.S. military to eight years--a period that Mejia reached last May while in Iraq, he said.

His calls were ignored, cementing his dismay and his decision not to return to Iraq, he said.

Mirabile said such time limits have been suspended during the Iraq campaign.

`I expect you to be back'

When Mejia told Warfel he had to return home, Warfel suspected Mejia of planning to go AWOL. Infantrymen complained of Mejia's reluctance to conduct patrols, which damaged morale, Warfel said.

"I looked him dead in the eye. I said, `Staff Sgt. Mejia, I expect you to be back,' and he said, `I'll be back.'

"But I told him I knew he wasn't coming back," Warfel said. "I think he's a mommy's boy and his mom greatly influences him."

Warfel said Mejia told him that his mother opposed the war and wouldn't assist with his paperwork and financial issues for renewing his permanent resident status.

"So there were indications that he wasn't in the fight. He just basically pressed out. He just lost his nerve," Warfel said.

But this ain't about guts, folks. It's POLITICAL.

...Mejia's lawyer, Font, is a civilian who has practiced military law for 26 years. Based in Brookline, Mass., Font is a 1968 West Point graduate who became a conscientious objector and did not go to Vietnam. He received an honorable discharge in 1971, he said.

Font plans to compare the Iraq conflict to Vietnam and even refer to political accusations about President Bush's military service during the Vietnam War.

"We are asking the military to treat [Mejia] the same way that the military treated President George Bush when he was in the Texas National Guard. That is, his alleged AWOL or desertion and failure to report to Alabama was treated through administrative channels rather than acted upon judicially," he said.

Maybe Mejia is being used. Maybe he's dumb. Maybe he's a coward. One thing's for sure, though, is that he abandoned his men.

Whether he abandoned them because he was scared, had a bad commander, or was opposed to the war is not a relevant issue.

He needs to be punished. And George Bush has nothing to do with it.