Alabama soldier refuses to be deployed to Iraq

Published 9:57 am Thursday, June 19, 2008

WASHINGTON – An Army sergeant from Alabama who is refusing to deploy to Iraq says the war is illegal and that he stands ready to defend himself against a court-martial if it comes to that.

Matthis Chiroux, who grew up in Auburn and enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Auburn High School, is one of thousands of Individual Ready Reserve troops recalled to combat after being honorably discharged from active duty.

He was told in February he would be sent to Iraq and was expected to report to Fort Jackson, S.C., by midnight Sunday. Instead, he is in the nation’s capital speaking out against the war and lining up support from like-minded members of Congress.

Chiroux, 24, said in an interview Wednesday that he would have readily agreed to deploy to the war in Afghanistan, which he considers a legal conflict with moral justification. But he calls the war in Iraq an illegal occupation based on false premises. He argues he would be breaking the law by participating.

So far, Chiroux has not heard from the Army. He said the prospect of going to prison concerns him and knows that speaking out in Washington makes his absence more conspicuous. But he said he wanted to announce his decision publicly because he did not feel comfortable keeping it to himself and hoping to avoid detection.

“I have just come to the point where I have the strength to stand for what I know is right,” said Chiroux, who now lives in Brooklyn and is traveling to Huntsville next week for his sister’s wedding. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as a soldier and keeping with the higher values of this nation to oppose this … I’m not going anywhere. They know where to find me.”

After enlisting in 2002, Chiroux served nearly five years as a public affairs specialist and photojournalist in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines.

He was honorably discharged from active duty last July and placed on Individual Ready Reserve, an inactive status during which soldiers don’t train or draw a paycheck but are subject to being called back to service. IRR troops are called up only in times of war or emergency, and with the five-year war in Iraq straining active-duty forces, the Army has been deploying them regularly in recent years.

Maj. Maria Quon, an Army spokeswoman, said some 16,000 IRR troops have been recalled since Sept. 11, 2001. More than 6,000 have been granted deferments or exemptions, while about 700 have failed to report.

About half of those who failed to report are still under investigation, while 317 were separated from the Army either through “other than honorable” discharges or general discharges. While other deserting soldiers have faced court-martial, none of the IRR troops has, Quon said.

“Everyone who joins the Army volunteers to join the Army,” said Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, another Army spokeswoman. “The reason we have the IRR is in a time of need we can come back and call on you.”

Chiroux’s father, Robert Chiroux, a Huntsville aerospace engineer who described himself as a conservative Republican, said he hasn’t decided whether he agrees with his son about the war.

But he said he is proud of his son’s willingness to stand up for his beliefs, and as a Navy veteran is disappointed in how the Bush administration has used troops in Iraq.

If the military is in such dire condition that veterans must be repeatedly deployed, the father said, the government should resume the draft – a move that would truly gauge the public’s appetite for the war.

“There are a lot of very courageous men and women who are being overused in Iraq,” he said. “The draft would seriously raise the conscience level about the war.”