The voices of veterans who have served in Iraq is among the most important in convincing the public and government officials that the war in Iraq is wrong and the occupation must be ended. The interview below is with Patrick Resta of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Patrick, who served as a combat medic in Iraq, is 26 years old and has been married for five years. He grew up in central New Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia. He is a full-time nursing student at the Community College of Philadelphia. His aunt and uncle were killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and about three weeks later he was called to active duty. He served for one year at Ft. Jackson, S.C. Then, when he began to get his life back to normal, less than one year after leaving Ft. Jackson he found out that he was being deployed again, this time to Iraq.
Zeese: Why did you join the National Guard?
Resta: I joined the National Guard for assistance with school. My parents made it clear that they weren’t in a position to help me with school, so I began considering my options when I was about 16 years old. In New Jersey, the National Guard pays for tuition, books, and fees to any state school. If you add on to that a few hundred dollars every month it sounded like a good deal to a 17-year-old kid.
Zeese: Were you surprised when you were sent to Iraq?
Resta: I wasn’t surprised at all that I was sent to Iraq. What did surprise me, though, was how my unit and myself were sent into combat unequipped and unprepared, and it didn’t seem to bother anyone. I was hearing as early as October 2001 that Iraq would be invaded no matter what. Also interesting to me is the fact that some people have been to Iraq two and three times, yet you still have some people that haven’t been there once.
Zeese: Where were you based in Iraq? What was your role there?
Resta: I served as a combat medic in a tank battalion. My job varied from day to day, but basically it was doing on of these three things: going on convoys to other camps to get supplies, going on patrols of towns or highways, or working in our three-bed ER, where we saw everything from the cold/flu to sprained ankles to gunshot wounds.
Zeese: What did you see in Iraq that convinced you that the U.S. should leave?
Resta: Pretty much everything I saw in Iraq convinced [me] that U.S. forces needed to leave. The in-your-face hypocrisy of this occupation was the most disturbing thing for me. Being told I was risking my life to help the Iraqi people and then getting over there and being told the Pentagon had set policy so no Iraqi could be treated unless they were about to die. The hypocrisy of the occupation was evident when I was told we were going to help rebuild Iraq and then watched as the only things being rebuilt were Saddam’s military bases to prepare for a permanent U.S. military presence. Every reason this administration gave to justify our presence in Iraq was the exact opposite of what was going on. While in the towns, I would talk to Iraqis hoping to hear something that would make the sacrifices of my fellow soldiers worth it. What I found is that we are neither wanted nor welcome. The Iraqi people don’t trust us, and they don’t want us there. Poll after poll has made that clear.
Zeese: The major argument for staying in Iraq is if the U.S. leaves, there will be greater chaos. How do you see this is the U.S. minimizing the chaos in Iraq?
Resta: I always ask people to describe the situation now. Is it not chaos? To me, the definition of a civil war is when people from a country kill other people from that country. That’s what’s happening now in Iraq. U.S. troops are the problem, not the solution. We are reliving the Vietnam War now, and it’s sad. We’re reliving it because the people in power didn’t learn anything from that event. They were too busy dreaming up ways to dodge the draft.
Tank battalions will never rebuild power and water-purification plants no matter how long they stay in Iraq. Halliburton and Bechtel didn’t build Iraq, so why are they rebuilding it? If you really want Iraqis to have democracy, let them run their own affairs. When you break something in a store, you don’t sit there with crazy glue trying to piece it back together. And you most certainly don’t run around with a bat breaking more things. What you do is apologize, write them a check, and get out before you do anymore damage.
Zeese: Did you get any sense when you were in Iraq that the U.S. is planning a long-term stay in the country, or are we planning a brief stay until things calm down in the country?
Resta: If you go back and look, you can see members of this administration talking about an invasion and long occupation of Iraq as long as a decade ago. As I said earlier, I saw plenty of bases being built for a permanent U.S. military presence. Things like barracks like you would see back here in the States. While I was in Iraq, the Air Force opened up what was referred to as a “million-dollar gym” at a base outside Baghdad. I never saw the receipts, but it sounds about right to me. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools. It was incredible to watch it happening and then hear the spin from the American press. You can even go to www.GlobalSecurity.org and find the specifics of the plan, including what units are going to Iraq for the next few years.
Zeese: Describe the purpose of Iraq Veterans Against the War, how many members you have, what some of your upcoming projects are.
Resta: Iraq Veterans Against the War has a pretty simple platform. It’s ending the occupation, making sure our government gives the veterans of this conflict the care that they are owed, and real aid for the people of Iraq. We have about 300 members ranging from privates to colonels. Some are still active duty, others are current members of the National Guard and Reserve, and some have just gotten out of the military. Those of us that are comfortable speaking out do so often. We’re working in a lot of other areas as well, like ending stop-loss, counter-recruiting, and trying to create a fair and honest conscientious-objector process within the military.