Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Iraq Vet Says He Won't Return

Published on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 by The Corvallis Gazette-Times (Oregon)

Iraq Vet Says He Won’t Return

After two deployments, Marine doesn’t want to go back, could face jail

by Therese Hogue

When Benjamin Lewis was 17, he joined the Marine Corps' delayed entry program, looking for a new direction in his life. He had dropped out of school and was struggling. The military seemed like a good option.

[Benjamin Lewis chats with a patron as he tends bar at Block 15. After doing two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corps, Lewis is now in Corvallis, going to school and working as a bartender with a new perspective on the war. (Casey Campbell/Gazette-Times)]Benjamin Lewis chats with a patron as he tends bar at Block 15. After doing two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corps, Lewis is now in Corvallis, going to school and working as a bartender with a new perspective on the war. (Casey Campbell/Gazette-Times)


After two deployments to Iraq, and an honorable discharge, Lewis, now 23, recently learned that he might be involuntarily redeployed to the region. He's decided that he's not going back, even if it means facing imprisonment.

The road to that decision was a long one.

Back in California, Lewis's recruiter talked him into going back to school to get his diploma before heading to boot camp in San Diego. After three months of infantry training, he joined the Third Battalion Fourth Marines in 29 Palms, Calif. They deployed in 2004, where the battalion participated in the first assault against Fallujah, supporting front-line infantry.

After a crash course in Arabic, Lewis became a translator for his platoon on patrols. He spent a lot of time on foot patrols in Haditha, living for months with local policemen there, sometimes working long hours with almost no sleep.

"We were really just making a show of force, marching around the streets and making a show of our presence."

After returning to the United States following their first tour, the battalion was redeployed to Iraq in 2005. They operated a vehicle checkpoint in Fallujah for seven months.

"It was a very long and stagnant tour," he said.

He spent the last year of his service as an urban combat instructor in California for the Marine's Mojave Viper operation, where he realized that teaching suited him.

"That was almost like being deployed. It was 14-hour days. You'd get a couple days off every 20 days or so."

In 2007, Lewis was honorably discharged from active duty. He moved to Corvallis and enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College to pursue a dual degree in philosophy and English literature. He planned eventually to work with peace organizations. But two months ago, Lewis learned he was being considered for involuntary reactivation under the military's 2004 Individual Ready Reserves provision.

As a Marine, Lewis had made an eight-year commitment to the Marines, so although he was discharged, he was still eligible for redeployment. But in the year since Lewis had left the Marines, he'd realized that he did not agree with the Marine Corps' actions in Iraq, or with the United States' involvement in the region.

Last month, Lewis went to Kansas City, Mo., for muster, or formal military inspection. At that time, he and other Marines were told that they'd receive their formal orders within two months. Lewis is now waiting to hear the final word, but said he has long since decided to refuse to reactivate.

Lewis has contacted groups such as Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War. He's consulted attorneys about what might happen if he refuses. He said he's prepared for jail time, if that is the result, but until that time, he's speaking out against the war.

COVALLIS, Wa. - "After being in the Marine Corps and joining up with the intention of helping people and hoping to execute those romantic ideals you see in the advertisement," he said, "once you're there you realize not only are you not capable of doing it, you're in an organization that suppresses any individual will to do such things."

Lewis started having these thoughts while training other Marines during his time with Mojave Viper. He said that having some distance from Iraq, and time to learn more about how the United States got into the war originally, gave him a new perspective.

"I was able to be more objective, and I was watching these mentalities," he said. "They started to scare me, the convictions that people had over things that were complete fallacies."

Later this month, Lewis plans to fly to Washington, D.C., to talk to activists there. He is trying to start an Iraqi Veterans Against the War chapter in Portland with a satellite in Corvallis. He's been writing about his experiences and his convictions. He's interested in talking to other Iraq war veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, and he's asking them to contact him at [1].

He's also awaiting his final orders, and he's dealing with the reality that his decisions could mean he'll face jail time.

"I made the resolve once I left 29 Palms that I would never go back into the Marine Corps."

 © 2008 The Gazette Times

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: