Mar 29, 2004
Twenty-eight-year-old Sergeant Camilo Mejia is far from the only U.S. serviceman who has gone AWOL after spending several months in Iraq. Last year, 60 soldiers asked for conscientious objector status, and another 7,500 or so simply went AWOL. What proportion were directly in response to the Iraq war is impossible to know. But what makes Mejia different is that he has gone public: Surrendering to military authorities on March 15, speaking out against the war, and asking for status as a conscientious objector. On March 26, Mejia was charged with desertion and will face a court-martial.
Mejia is a permanent resident of the U.S. who was born in Nicaragua. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19, and then transferred into the National Guard for another five years. His unit was sent to Iraq in April.
Refused discharge when his eight-year hitch was up, he finally went AWOL last October. Explaining his opposition to the war in Iraq, he accused his commanders of seeking combat so they could win medals. "They were trying to draw the enemy onto us for medals and Purple Hearts." He was upset when a young Iraqi boy, who was shot, died because of sloppiness at the medical unit. It made him angry when his unit was reprimanded for celebrating when they escaped from an ambush.
Mejia said, "I made the decision to disagree with this war," adding that his commanders were too quick to take the lives of Iraqis. "I think this war is particularly immoral."
Mejia also said, "When you join, you have no idea what war is like." He is not the only one to discover this truth too late.