For Canadians and Deserter Kim Rivera, Iraq Is Not Your Daddy’s Vietnam

Just 5 feet tall, with a baby strapped to her chest and a soft, faltering voice, Kim Rivera is anything but soldierly. Yet two years ago, she was a Texas private in the War on Terror, guarding a gate with an M4 rifle and frisking Iraqi civilians at a base in eastern Baghdad.

Now, on a Wednesday evening in January, the 26-year-old mother of three stands in a room in frigid, snow-covered Toronto. Her fair-skinned face and round blue eyes are framed by auburn hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and she places a hand on her bundled baby as she faces about 100 people seated in folding chairs in the middle-class apartment building's community room.

Rivera clears her throat and unfolds a sheet of paper.

Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.
Ian Willms
Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.

"I was fighting your kind for killing my kind," she begins, reading a poem she wrote last summer and dedicated to the people of Iraq. "I was fighting for your liberty; I was fighting for peace." She pauses and takes a deep breath. "But in reality, I was fighting to destroy everything you know and love."

The audience listens in silence. Some nod. A few wipe tears from their eyes. They are peace activists and professors, fellow American Iraq War deserters in their 20s and American hippies in their 60s, Vietnam draft-dodgers, and Canadian mothers.

They're all rooting for Rivera, red-state warrior turned peacenik deserter. They're hoping and praying that by some lucky chance or the benevolent hand of a politician or judge, the young mother will escape the deportation order that has been issued here and the court martial that awaits back home.

Three years ago, before Iraq and Canada, Rivera's dreams of going to college and developing a career had faded. She'd spent five years working at Wal-Mart in her hometown of Mesquite, Texas, met her husband in the store's food court, and had her first two children. After several years of living with relatives and struggling to save for her own apartment, Rivera saw the Army as the only way out. Through the military, she could make more than $10.50 an hour, plus get health insurance and higher education. And since she and her husband were both overweight and she was certain that she could shed the necessary pounds faster than he could, she began talking to recruiters.

She enlisted in early 2006. When she signed the contract, she thought of the war in Iraq as a remote and necessary evil. She was raised to praise the Lord and praise her country, and if that meant ridding the world of terrorists while allowing her and her family to get ahead, so be it. Yet after three desolate months in Iraq, consumed by homesickness, missing her children, and disgusted by what she saw of the war, she deserted while on leave in 2007 and fled with her family to Canada.

Just like her decision to enlist, that gamble hasn't paid off the way she'd hoped. The Canadian government ordered her to leave the country by January 27 or be deported to the United States, where there's a warrant for her arrest. Desertion, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, carries penalties of up to five years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, and, in wartime, a potential death sentence.

As the first known female soldier to walk away from the war in Iraq and fight for residency in Canada, Rivera has become a poster girl for a new generation of war deserters and, in particular, the small colony of American deserters who are living in Toronto and hoping they'll get to stay there.

More than 15,000 soldiers have deserted the Army since 2003, and most are thought to be living in the United States, keeping a low profile and trying to avoid a traffic ticket or anything else that would alert authorities to their presence. Army spokesmen stress that just 1 percent of all soldiers desert and that the problem is not large enough to warrant pursuing them for prosecution. Nevertheless, desertion figures have nearly doubled, rising from 2,610 in 2003 to 4,698 in 2007, and military records show a crackdown on deserters since the war in Iraq began. While in 2001, only 29 deserters were prosecuted, in 2007 that figure was 108.

The War Resisters Support Campaign estimates that several hundred deserters are living in Canada. Of those, about 40 have come forward to file asylum claims. The others, living under the radar without legal status and likely waiting to see how their peers' cases pan out, have little to stoke their hopes. While an estimated 25,000 draft-dodgers and deserters migrated from the United States to Canada during the Vietnam War, the notion that Canada will absorb today's deserters as it did their predecessors is dead wrong.

The Canadian government — led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper — has so far rejected all the deserters' requests, and the soldiers referred to as "war resisters" by their supporters are awaiting review from the country's federal courts to determine their fate. As the cases make their way through the Canadian court system, Rivera is among the first wave to face impending deportation, and a host of others are expected to follow in the coming months.

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9 comments
Ryan
Ryan

Why isn't anyone commenting on the "morality" of the government who sent these young people to war. All I hear is crap about a business contract that was signed and how it is "cowardly" for these people to want to opt out of a war they were lied to about in the first place. Killing and maiming innocent people isn't for everyone. I feel for the American soldiers who were lied to, and are being sent to fight a special interest war in which the majority will see no benefits from, and especially feel for the majority of everyday Iraqi people who have not had a choice of a life for the last 20-30 years because of the West meddling in their affairs.

Ron
Ron

She enlisted for all the wrong reasons. I've heard this story before and even from a Marine Corps reservist who actually believed she would never be sent into a conflict. She was confident that her unit had rear area support duties and she could always get out of the corps if she was assigned to go into danger. Some people are quite adept at convincing themselves that military service is something other than the reality. They deny the realty and decide to believe some convenient fairytale. Some become deserters running to foreign nations to avoid the reality which rains upon them washing away all pretense. So to the youth of America I say, consider carefully what you do. Military service is not an easy ride to benefits and the educational benefits are paltry compared to the risks. Need an education, there are plenty of other ways to help yourself. Even the National Guard is no place to go just to get benefits. The cold war is over -- now we have endless "hot" conflicts around the globe. Plenty of opportunity to serve our country which is the reason one should serve in the military. Don't just sign up for the benefits, you could end up using your burial benefit earlier than you like. I served in the U.S. Air Force for a decade. I recommend service, but consider it carefully. When you do sign that contract -- live by your decision and fulfill your promise.

Devildog
Devildog

Coward, I am ashamed of this coward, make excuses because of the lack of commitment, you wanted all the good but none of the bad, come back to America and face the charges you coward

john
john

Anyone find it odd that Canada wont allow deserters to stay but fight to keep killers facing the death penalty?

Mike Wichrowski
Mike Wichrowski

I don't believe her for a minute, she joined for a free ride, hoping her 2)kids would keep her from serving in Iraq. She gambled and lost, now needs to face the music. I served in everything from NAM to the 1st. Gulf War (and 5 kids along the way). I may not have agreed or liked the situation but I was no COWARD! She could have gotten out, if she hated it so much, but WITH NO BENEFITS!

Jerry K
Jerry K

First and foremost. You signed the contract, you said you would do the duty and you lied. These people in the article ran when they said they wouldn't. They are truly cowards in every sense of the word. Even if you are a woman and you are serving you must expect that you will have to sacrifice, the main subject of the article expects everyone to sacrifice for her and then claims to be a victim when she sees how hard life can be for her to sacrifice. Girl grow up or shut up.

I served in the military 19 years ago, I knew what I signed up for and I now know that if my life was needed I signed a contract that said I would give it voluntarily.

In talking with my current 2 family members that are in the Army and USAF they both have stated they are proud to be serving and when they have been in theater they are doing the right things there.

These deserters deserve the full UCMJ thrown at them and be lined up in front of a firing squad. We are in a time of war, the punishment is clear.

Since the article threw in a political spin. I will do mine, I am a republican; ironically I grew up as a democrat and then saw the light that we make our own way. These people are the weak minded democrats that our wonderful new administration wants to serve. If our new administration doesn�t deal with these deserters per the UCMJ it will show the world just how weak we are.

We as Americans must find our back bone and be the leaders we need to be.

Joe Harrison
Joe Harrison

I agree with Andrew Noe that there's something wrong with Kim Rivera, which give me some sympathy for her. Basically i think she should've toughed out the time she signed up to serve, but i would also like to know whether or not she was given alternatives to running away. She clearly has some issues, and from personal experience, i can tell you that homesickness can be debilitating, and can sneak up on a person. With that in mind, a well run military would provide for one to get help and if necessary, a transfer to a position that they're more capable of, or need be, discharge. If you jump at your own shadow, you're a danger to yourself and your unit, and that trumps unit cohesion. Still, while a lack of such options could be considered extenuating circumstances, what she did was still wrong.

The ones i do support are those that got a stop loss order. They did their duty, fulfilled their obligations, and went back to their lives, only to be pulled back in, or not allowed to leave. What happened to a volunteer military? Aside from a slap on the wrist, i don't think those deserters deserve any punishment, they did everything they were supposed to, and the military simply decided to conscript them, which goes against the claims of an all volunteer military. This is especially galling when at the same time we're kicking gays out because you can't be gay and serve. Quite frankly, as long as you behave yourself and conduct yourself professionally, i don't see why you can't serve, particularly at a time when we need everyone we can get.

Andrew Noe
Andrew Noe

Upon reading the first part of the article, I really thought that I would have sympathy for the subjects involved. But I don't. The Vietnam-era deserters who didn't have the balls or were too rich or too smart to fight? Good riddance. They were never Americans to begin with. I bet they have as many problems and guilt as the men and women who stood up and served our country as honorably as most of our military personnal did. Better to live life bravely than be a coward, and make no mistake, they were and always will be cowards. There is no such thing as a brave coward. I know that's a harsh judgement, but one has to live by one's choices.As far as the modern day deserters are concerned: If one joins the Marines, you should know better. I noticed no Navy personnel were involved. The Air Force guy sounds like the usual fuck-up who got busted. He should be a politician because it sounds like he is a liar and a weasel.What is very disturbing about the article is the fact that Kim Rivera was even allowed in the Army. I can't believe that they are so desperate to think she would be a good soldier. This is what happens when the standards are so low that they would allow this to happen. "Boo-hoo, I joined the Army voluntarily to get free stuff and they sent me to a place where bad things happened."As far as I'm concerned, the Canadians can keep them all.

Scott Davis
Scott Davis

Typical. I wan't somebody to provide for me. I have to do what to get my benefits? I know I signed up for this deal, but I'm not doing that.

And know this lazy so and so is a victim.

That's why is country is going down the toilet.

Total BS.

 
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