Monday, March 15, 2004


And not worthy to wear the stripes of a Non-Commissioned Officer
In Iraq last April, freshly promoted Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia led squads of Florida National Guard soldiers in the fight against insurgents in the deadly Sunni Triangle.

But Mejia became increasingly pained by his war experiences and decided not to come back from leave last fall. The staff sergeant, one of about 600 soldiers counted as AWOL by the Army during home leaves from Iraq, was labeled a deserter.

Now, after five months in hiding, Mejia plans to surrender in Boston today on the eve of the war's first anniversary, and he aims to become the first Iraq war veteran to publicly challenge the morality and conduct of the conflict. He intends to seek conscientious-objector status to avoid a court-martial.

In an interview, Mejia, 28, said he found the war and many of his combat orders morally questionable and ultimately unacceptable. He has been living in New York and other Eastern cities, traveling by bus instead of by plane or car to escape the attention of the police and military. He has avoided using his credit cards and cellphone.

Mejia accuses commanders of using GIs as "bait" to lure out Iraqi fighters so that US soldiers could win combat decorations. He also says operations were conducted in ways that sometimes risked injuring civilians. He has accused his battalion and company commanders of incompetence and has reiterated past guardsmen's complaints about being poorly equipped.

Those commanders defended their conduct. His immediate commander described Mejia as a poorly performing soldier who "lost his nerve" as bloodshed intensified in one of Iraq's more violent cities, Ramadi. what you just read of his actions to the standards that non-commissioned officers have held themselves to for over 200 years. The Non-Commissioned Officers' Creed.
No one is more professional than I. I am a Non-commissioned Officer, a leader of soldiers. As a Noncommissioned Officer, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as "The Backbone of the Army."

I am proud of the Corps of Noncommissioned Officers and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the Military Service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself...

Competence is my watch-word. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind-accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers. I will strive to remain tactically and technically proficient. I am aware of my role as a Noncommissioned Officer. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own...

Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. I will earn their respect and confidence as well as that of my soldiers. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers and subordinates alike.

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