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A Just Desertion, Absent soldier hidden aboveground
Carl Webb's days of looking over his shoulder for military police have come to an end. Two years ago, a unit that Webb was assigned to in the Texas Army National Guard shipped out to Iraq. But the 40-year-old practical nurse from Austin says the war is wrong, so he let the unit go without him, expecting a warrant to be issued for his arrest.
Instead, on July 28, the Guard sent Webb a letter telling him that he'll get a dishonorable discharge Tuesday for serious misconduct, â€œin particular,â€ the letter states, for â€œyour failure to report to active duty as required coupled with your deliberate avoidance of numerous Texas Army National Guard representatives who have made repeated attempts to contact you.â€
If the Army National Guard was looking for him, Webb says with a giggle, they were't looking too hard: After months of lying low in Tennessee in 2004 and 2005, Webb went public with his desertion, talking to newspapers, giving speeches, and being interviewed on â€œDemocracy Now!â€ and National Public Radio.
Webb, who came to Seattle last week for the national Veterans for Peace Convention, doesnâ€™t think heâ€™s alone. The Army has already acknowledged it has more than 6,000 deserters. Webb believes it could be as many as 15,000 â€” something he says the Army would like to keep a lid on. So, except for a few high-profile cases, Webb says most deserters arenâ€™t reported, much less prosecuted.
Whether by oversight or design, thatâ€™s what happened in Webbâ€™s case. Just weeks before his discharge date in 2004, he was â€œstop-lossed,â€ or extended, and ordered to ship out to Iraq with a different unit.
After failing to deploy, Webb says he called the National Lawyers Guild about his options. He says he was advised to wait a month or so until his name had dropped off the active-duty roll. At that point, he was told, he could turn himself in as a deserter and ask for a dishonorable discharge in lieu of a court-martial â€” a strategy that could be available to Sgt. Ricky Clousing, the 24-year-old Army interrogator from Sumner who left his Fort Bragg, N.C., base a year ago rather than be redeployed to Iraq. Clousing surrendered himself at Fort Lewis on Aug. 12.
One hitch in Webbâ€™s case: The unit never reported Webb missing. After waiting two months, he says he called the unitâ€™s administrative offices in Texas to ask why.
â€œThe sergeant on the phone said, â€˜Look, youâ€™re not the only soldier that didnâ€™t show up,â€™â€ Webb recalls.
â€œWhen people are being called up with the stop-loss program,â€ he says, â€œthey are being assigned to other units that are missing personnelâ€ â€” such as a medic he was ordered to replace in the other unit. But, â€œthey donâ€™t report all those soldiers,â€ he says.
Webb says itâ€™s ironic how much easier this makes life for deserters. Though he hid for a few months in Tennessee and later embarked on a speaking tour at churches and schools across the Northeast, Webb has led a fairly normal life in the past two years.
While he was in Tennessee, he says he lived off the rest of his $3,000 enlistment bonus and the final checks the Guard sent to his Austin address. For the past three months, the federal government has actually employed him as a census worker in Austin.
Though he signed a contract with the Guard, Webb says he feels no obligation to fight in Iraq â€” a message he wants to share with other soldiers.
â€œI will fight in a war and have nothing against violence if itâ€™s for a good cause,â€ Webb says.
â€œIn this case, it is not a good cause,â€ he says. â€œThis is a war of imperialism. Itâ€™s about oil and money.â€
â€œThatâ€™s exactly what Iâ€™m saying to other soldiers: You as an individual, you have an obligation to decide whether your government is wrong or right and whether or not youâ€™re going to back it.â€
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