You wont read or hear much about it in the American press, and you certainly wont hear comment from the Pentagon on the subject. Despite all the flag waving, and super patriotic hype about the military in Iraq, the hard fact is that several thousand troops have deserted.
The most recent figures available indicate there are 5,133 troops absent from duty. That figure is down from the 8,396 absent since 9/11. The Army is looking for 2,376 of those deserters, the Navy for 1,410, the Marines want 1,297, and the Air Force seeks 50 airmen.
The real figures may be much higher. Calls to a volunteer hotline from military personnel who want out of the service have risen 50 percent since the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. The GI Rights Hotline is getting more than 3,000 calls a month. People are calling us because there is a real problem, said Robert Dove, who works in the Boston office of the American Friends Service Committee, better known as the Quakers. We do not profess to be lawyers or therapists, Dove said, but we do provide both types of support.
Who calls the hotline? People like Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is facing a military court-martial for desertion. Conviction can mean seven years in prison. The proceeding is going on at Fort Stewart, Ga.
Iraqs violence, bloodshed and horror became too much for Benderman, who is a veteran of the first Gulf War and served one hitch in Iraq. Last January, when he learned his unit was about to be sent back to Iraq, Benderman requested conscientious objector status. The Army said no and charged him with desertion.
Benderman declared: If I am sincere in what I say and theres consequences because of my actions, I am prepared to stand up and take it. If I have to go to prison because I dont want to kill anybody, so be it.
Calls to the hotline range from veterans like Benderman to raw recruits, like Jeremiah Adler. Adler, an 18-year-old from Portland, Ore., thought he could change the Army culture. After arrival at Fort Benning, Ga., he soon realized he was mistaken. The Army, said Adler, wanted to turn him into a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.
Enjoying a vacation in southern Germany, Adler told a reporter: It was obviously a horrible experience, but now Im glad I went through it. I was expecting to meet a whole lot of different types of people; some had noble reasons. I also met a lot of people who [wanted] to kill Arabs.
Adler and another soldier went AWOL (absent without leave) and will draw an other than honorable discharge.
We have recently heard about the case of Jeremy Hinzman, 26, a reservist with the 82nd Airborne Division, who has served in Afghanistan. When his unit was ordered to Iraq, he decided he wasnt going. He fled to Canada with his wife and child. Instead of being offered sanctuary, Hinzman was extradited by the Canadian government and turned over to U.S. authorities.
Observers report military officers and noncoms are putting great pressure on recruits who declare they want out of service. It is happening because of sharply slumping recruitment on the outside.
Attention also has been focused on the questionable and sometimes illegal practices of military recruiters, to the point where recruiting was halted for a day to retrain the recruiters. They havent met their recruiting goals for three months in a row.
As U.S. casualties in Iraq top 1,600 with more than 12,000 wounded, the recruiters are having a very difficult time persuading young men and women to join the military. J.E. McNeil, head of the Centre for Conscience and War in Washington, D.C., whose group also staffs the hotline, said many young people she talked with were lied to by recruiters.
I had an 18-year-old who was told he did not have to serve in Iraq, she said. He told her he was informed he would get a job where he would not have to go. He was recruited to be a military policeman, McNeil said. They are the people they are sending to Iraq. People all the time are told [by recruiters] I can get you a job where you will not have to go to war.
The Pentagon claims it keeps no records of how many attempt to desert each year. Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke asserted: The vast majority of those who desert do so because they have committed some criminal act, not for political or conscientious objector purposes (the guardian/uk.com).
From the May 25-31, 2005, issue