By Benji Lewis. January 1, 2009
I am Benji Lewis. I deployed to Iraq twice in 2004 and 2005 and was discharged honorably in 2007. Recently I have been involuntarily activated from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) by the U.S. Marine Corps in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an activation that I have been publicly refusing.
The IRR is an inactive group of service members who still have time remaining on their signing agreements and are eligible to call up in states of emergency. The current state of emergency is the open-ended Global War on Terror that includes the occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because of falling reenlistment levels, the United States is finding it difficult to procure sufficient manpower in its efforts overseas. Thus the U.S. government is finding it necessary to reactivate members from the IRR to stave off its shortage of personnel. Thousands of individuals are now being faced with the decision to reactivate and forgo the lives they have built since their discharge. I am ignoring my orders and encouraging others in the IRR to make an informed decision on whether or not they should do the same.
The most important fact about this decision is that members of the IRR do not fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) until they report to the evaluation for activation. After being discharged from the military, veterans are bound only by civilian laws, and there exists no civilian mandate that states they must report for their evaluation. This means that the military has no formal judiciary measure for bringing criminal charges against an individual that ignores orders and fails to report.
Of course the military has certain forms of coercion and harassment that it utilizes to ‘prompt’ persons into reactivation, but these threats have no legal grounds. For example, if the military sends a veteran a letter that says to report for a court martial or a separations hearing, the military cannot actually hold a court martial or separations hearing unless that person reports for it. This means that a vet would have to volunteer to be court marshaled under the UCMJ. In the case of a separations hearing, a vet would have to agree to voluntarily participate, as in the well-known case of IRR resister and fellow IVAW member, Matthis Chiroux.
If members of the IRR ignore all attempts by the military to contact them, through not signing certified letters, or answering their phone calls, then the most probable situation is either a general separation from the IRR citing ‘a failure to contact,’ or, at worst, an other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR. What is important to understand is that a discharge from the IRR, in whatever capacity, does not affect a vet’s discharge from active duty. That means that at this time no one has incurred any loss of benefits or standing from an original active duty discharge. An other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR could, however, affect those that apply for a federal job requiring a national security background check, such as a position in the FBI or NSA.
Of the facts surrounding the IRR, it is important to know that about thirty to forty percent of personnel fail to report. Unfortunately many of them do comply after the military uses scare tactics to get them to reactivate. About fifty percent file for medical or hardship exemption and about fifty percent of those get approved. Individuals with more than thirty percent disability are most likely to succeed. The reality is that most service members in the IRR do not even have to file for exemption if they simply fail to report.
Why I am refusing to reactivate
The U.S. claimed that it invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam. The ‘war’ ended for America the day Saddam fled into hiding and the Iraqi people were ready to reestablish their futures free from bondage. The ‘war’ especially ended when the Kurds found and turned over Saddam to American forces, and the ‘war’ really should have been over by the time many Iraqis were beginning to discover that though they hated him, their lives were better under Saddam. Naturally this notion was contrary to stated goals, but exemplifies the fact that the U.S. did not ever really care about the people of Iraq, and was more interested in profiteering and geostrategic positioning.
The Iraq resistance to American presence will not cease until it accomplishes its objectives: U.S. withdrawal of its political and economic influence, and troop presence.
The U.S. has been instrumental in creating the strife in Iraq: from the Reagan administration taking Iraq off the state sponsored terrorism list in 1982 in order to sell it weaponry during the eight year war with Iran (in which Iraq openly used chemical weapons, utilizing raw chemicals sold by U.S. corporations and approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce), to the baiting of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, to the Gulf War, to the resulting sanctions, and finally to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Yet, it is still safe to say that during the last three decades of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the country has never been worse off than it has been under the U.S. occupation. Still, it surprises many people, mostly Americans who get their information from mainstream media outlets, that the Iraqis would be resisting the occupation.
I am resisting activation because the occupation of Iraq has done nothing but proliferate international terrorism, because the results from Afghanistan have been and will continue to do the same, and because the occupation of Iraq has been nothing but detrimental to the Iraqi people, American troops and their loved ones. It is time for the American public to understand that just because our government and our military state specific goals and visions, it does not mean that those statements reflect their real intentions.
The question for IRR members is whether or not they should leave their new civilian lives behind so soon after being discharged to fight in illegal aggressions and occupation. The benefit is certainly not for veterans who, if they have not already been so, stand only to get wounded, killed or sustain psychological trauma in the form of PTSD.
I encourage all IRR service members to start questioning what they are being told by a military system that will tell them anything to fill its quotas. Active duty troops in Iraq are discovering that by disobeying orders they are actually saving lives. They are doing this by refusing orders to patrol hot streets where the only mission that can be accomplished is to be wounded or killed by an IED or pre-set ambush with no stated goal but ‘a presence.’ We owe it to active duty service members and vets to question our orders as IRR members. Together we can deplete the manpower available for this war and force the U.S. to rotate its service members home where they belong. We must allow the Iraqis to rebuild their nation without interference from biased U.S. policy makers and corporations. It is impossible to honor those fallen in an unjustifiable aggression by continuing to fill body bags.
We can say no.
Benji Lewis was a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Fallujah and Hadita in 2004 & 2005. He is an IRR resister and community activist in Corvallis, Oregon. He encourages all fellow IRR service members to contact the GI Rights Hotline (1-877-447-4487) with further questions about the IRR and reference www.couragetoresist.org.