Fort Stewart Soldier, Blogger Goes AWOL, Objects to Iraq Deployment
By Sarah Olson, Special to The Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) FORT STEWART — “Just because we volunteered, doesn’t mean we volunteered to throw our lives away for nothing. You can only push human beings so far,” Marc Train, 19, a soldier from America’s heartland, stationed most recently in Fort Stewart, Georgia, says.
“Soldiers are going to Iraq multiple times. The reasons we’re there are obviously lies. We’re reaching a breaking point, and I believe you’re going see a lot more resistance inside the military.”
Train’s a Private in the US Army, but the last time anyone saw him on base at Fort Stewart was March 16, 2007, just before he headed to Washington, DC, to protest the Occupation in which he is expected to fight.
Before leaving for DC, Train contacted Garett Reppenhagen, Chairman of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Train wanted to participate in the street theater protests Reppenhagen was organizing for Iraq veterans to mark the fourth anniversary of the Invasion.
“When I learned he was coming from Fort Stewart where he was still an active duty soldier, my first thought was, Wow, the kid has guts,” Reppenhagen said.
Photos show Train at an anti-war demonstration outside the Pentagon that drew over 30,000 people on March 17, 2007. He was on stage with veterans and other GIs opposing the Occupation. In one hand he held an antiwar banner; in the other, a red flag, waving in the wind, high above his head.
“We parted that evening with plans for Marc to get a ride to the Operation First Casualty [street theater] preparation the next day,” Reppenhagen recalls. “Marc never showed. Something deep down inside me figured he wasn’t going back to Fort Stewart.”
TRAIN’S JOURNEY INTO MILITARY SERVICE
Marc Train was an Army brat. His father, Eric, was stationed in Germany, where Marc spent the first three years of his life.
Eric Train was responsible for border security between East and West Germany. “He may have seen some bad things there,” his son Marc says, uncertain. “I’ve heard stories from people stationed with my Dad. When people tried to cross from East to West, they’d get pretty torn up. They were shot down. My Dad might have been exposed to that.”
When the Berlin Wall came down, Eric moved his family back to the United States. Seeking to spare them the monotony of an active duty lifestyle, Eric transferred to the Army Reserves.
When Eric couldn’t find a job, he started drinking. Spiraling into debt, Eric and Charlene were in the process of splitting up. When young Marc Train was five, his father shot himself in the head with a deer-hunting rifle.
After that, Train went through a predictable string of psychotropic medications for young people with trauma.
At one point, he was spent a month at Charter Mental Hospital in Wichita, Kansas.
“I’m kind of a mamma’s boy,” Train says, laughing a little. “For 13 years, I put her through a lot… I never went to class and the school would call her job all the time. We’d get really frustrated and yell at each other. The cops would come and I’d get taken away to jail. My Mom always came to pick me up later, though.”
Marc and his mother ended up in Salina, Kansas, a city that promised boom-time economic growth. Marc Train bounced from school to school just the same: Salina High School South, an alternative school, and finally the Job Corps. He graduated from the Job Corps with a GED.
Marc and his mother weren’t hungry, but they still struggled to make ends meet. The family wasn’t homeless, but they occasionally went to stay with his grandparents. Mostly, they just kept moving from place to place. Looking around, Train didn’t see much in the way of a future ahead of him.
“I was in an economic trap,” he says. “I just wanted to find some stability in my life. The Army seemed like just the thing. Going through school, they teach you implicitly, if you’re [unsuccessful] here, you’re gonna be [unsuccessful] forever. I needed a way out of that.”
Train signed up for the Army under the delayed-entry program in the summer of 2005.
TRAIN’S JOURNEY OUT OF MILITARY SERVICE
On September 1, 2005, Marc Train was picked up at his house by a recruiter and delivered to the military entrance-processing station (MEPS) in Kansas City. Nine days later, Train ended up at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he began a new life on September 9, 2005.
“That was zero day,” Train says, talking about the Army process of breaking down and rebuilding new recruits. “They tried to shatter everybody.”
As Train’s boyhood was being smashed out of him by Army drill instructors, he watched Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rip through the Gulf Coast of the US. As drill instructors tried to remake him into a US Army soldier, Train grew more and more critical of the government’s callous response to the death and economic devastation in the region.
He knew the National Guard should have been around to assist with the disaster, but the troops were deployed in Iraq instead.
After Basic Training, Train spent 16 weeks at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, learning to be an intelligence analyst. He was given an interim top-secret security clearance, and after an initial investigation, would have access to highly sensitive compartmentalized intelligence.
“The really spooky, CIA stuff,” Train explains, without going into further detail.
In April 2006, he arrived at his first duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The problems began when Train started a blog critical of the US government’s financial decisions. How could the Administration disburse funding to its pals at Halliburton’s KBR and Bechtel, but allocate nothing for the people in the Gulf Coast, he asked. Along the way, Train says he may have been a bit disrespectful to those responsible.
Seeing as how his writings were posted anonymously, it shouldn’t have mattered.
But when Train’s commanders saw his blog, they hit the roof. On the grounds he was a threat to national security, his clearance was suspended. A months-long investigation resulted in the revocation of his top-secret security status and other disciplinary action. He could no longer do the only job he knew how to do.
“No one ever asked me if I intended to overthrow the government, or even if I would have supported that. If they had asked, I would have said no, because I wanted to support my unit,” Train says. “I’d seen movies like Iraq for Sale, and I had heard about the scandal at Abu Ghraib. I wanted to use my knowledge to support our mission and help the people in Iraq. But no one asked me.”
Train says his commanders told him they “thought I was an infiltration and espionage threat.”
In November 2006, Train’s security clearance was formally revoked and his commanding officer started to talk seriously about Train leaving the Army. Train agreed he and the Army weren’t such a good fit anymore. He filled out a separation packet, and was pulled off the deployment roster in January 2007. His paperwork made its way through the chain of command.
By every indication, Train was on his way to getting out of the Army.
By this time, Train had signed the Appeal for Redress, an online petition for active duty members of the military. He joined IVAW and was developing a political critique of the policies that supported the Invasion of Iraq.
In February 2007, Train began hearing rumors his discharge had been rejected and he would be sent to Iraq anyway. His Rear Detachment Commander eventually confirmed the rumors, saying Train would deploy as an 11Bravo infantryman, with generic assignments and combat responsibilities.
“Everyone in the Army gets a few combat skills. But infantry? It’s not what I was trained for,” Marc says. “It would have been a suicide mission.”
Train knew the threats were serious when he was sent to the rapid fielding initiative (RFI) and equipped for deployment.
Because he wasn’t reclassified with more useful duties or properly prepared for the ones to which he was now assigned, Train became convinced going AWOL was his best option.
He left for the March 17, 2007, protests in Washington, DC, knowing he wouldn’t return to Fort Stewart. Train arranged to meet other GIs in DC.
Jonathan Hutto, Cofounder of the Appeal for Redress, didn’t know about Train’s plans, but no soldier makes the decision to go AWOL lightly, he says.
“I support any and everyone who has been driven to go AWOL,” says Hutto, himself an active duty member of the Navy. “It’s not his fault he went AWOL. It’s the government’s fault for committing this war and creating such an untenable situation.”
Like Hutto, IVAW’s Garett Reppenhagen says Train going AWOL was an understandable choice given the circumstances. “I also would have supported him if he had gone back and continued service,” Reppenhagen said.
“I have a huge pain in my heart, like it’s literally breaking,” Train said after leaving Washington, DC.
SOLDIER QUESTIONS RECRUITMENT IN SCHOOLS
“The recruiters are coming into these inner-city schools, full of kids who are already going to have a hard life, harder than most people. When the same kids come back with post-traumatic stress disorder, the military denies them benefits. It sickens me because I wore that uniform. I represented a system of treating people like garbage.”
The militarization of America’s schools is shocking, Train says. “They’re creating a culture of conformity. They’re teaching kids to lash out at anything different.” Train notes the metal detectors, the security guards on every floor, and students wearing uniform-like clothes.
“I want to counter the whole idea that just because you think you might have messed up one area of your life, your life is ruined forever,” Train says.
He doesn’t know specifics, but in the long run knows his future work will have something to do with giving young people hope. “I want to build support networks for troubled kids so they don’t have to join the military.”
“Regardless of what the mainstream media says about troops supporting the war, a lot of people around me disagreed with the policies,” Train says.
“Recruiting is down. The length and number of tours is up. GIs are exhausted, and we’re angry. When a bunch of uniformed soldiers say the war is [messed] up, the anger begins to spill over. There’s going to be a breaking point soon. The Army already has a situation on its hands.”
About the author:
Sarah Olson is an independent journalist and radio producer based in Oakland, CA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Olson was previously featured in Atlanta Progressive News for objecting to testifying against another Iraq objector who she interviewed, Lt. Ehren Watada, in his recent tribunel.
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.