The final turning point came one day in December. An Iraqi man walked through the gate with a little girl, and Rivera moved to frisk them. She assumed the man was coming to file a claim for reparations in exchange for damage caused by American forces. Rivera stopped dead when she turned to the girl. The child looked to be the same age as her daughter, Rebecca. The toddler screamed and wailed inconsolably, her cheeks streaked with tears. Rivera felt sickened by the girl's cries and wondered what had happened to her and why her mother wasn't there.

Long after the pair had disappeared, Rivera couldn't stop thinking about them. Seeing that little Iraqi girl weeping was a watershed moment for her. From then on, she couldn't shake the feeling that everything was wrong. The bloodshed. The loss. The fact that her children were on the other side of the world, learning and saying and doing new things each day that she was missing and would never be able to recapture.

She came home in January for two weeks' leave, and she and Mario took the kids to Texas to visit their families. Rivera had trouble sleeping. Every time a car door slammed, she'd flatten herself onto the floor. Her mother-in-law, Reyna Rivera, recalls her having panic attacks and crying on the floor, begging God for a way to avoid another stint in Iraq.

Lee Zaslofsky, a Brooklyn-born Vietnam deserter who runs the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, protests the deportation of American deserters.
Ian Willms
Lee Zaslofsky, a Brooklyn-born Vietnam deserter who runs the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, protests the deportation of American deserters.
War resister Dale Landry (left) and Army deserter Ryan Johnson ride the streetcar in Toronto.
Ian Willms
War resister Dale Landry (left) and Army deserter Ryan Johnson ride the streetcar in Toronto.

"She wasn't stable enough to handle that, and she shouldn't have been there in the first place," Reyna says. "To think of her going back . . . My God."

Mario, searching for options online, came across the Web site for the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. He called Zaslofsky, the coordinator, who told him the organization would help provide legal aid and temporary housing. The idea at first struck Rivera as ridiculous. They didn't know a soul in Canada. At the same time, she couldn't bear the thought of going back to Iraq. Deliberating and praying over where to go and how to hide, she let her scheduled flight date out of the United States pass. She knew that 30 days after going AWOL she'd be listed a deserter, the authorities at Fort Carson would alert law enforcement and a warrant would probably be issued for her arrest. She didn't want to live as a wanted criminal in her own country, so Canada began to look like a better option.

While her commanders searched for her by calling relatives and left messages on her phone recommending she return within the month and receive more lenient punishment, she and Mario loaded the kids into their Geo Prism and drove north. On February 18, 2007, they reached Niagara Falls and drove over the Rainbow Bridge. It was a gray, dreary day as they made their way across the river gorge. Dark storm clouds gathered behind them, but as they emerged on the other side of the bridge in Ontario, the sun came out.

Rivera took it as a sign that they had done the right thing.


It's late January, and the past few days have brought grim news to Lee Zaslofsky's small office on the fourth floor of a brick building that houses unions and peace organizations. Along with Rivera, two other deserters living in Toronto have been denied residency and are scheduled to be deported by the end of the month. To add insult to injury, immigration minister Jason Kenney was quoted on the news complaining that the "bogus refugee claimants" were clogging up the courts with futile petitions.

Zaslofsky's group has declared the last stretch of January "Let Them Stay Week" and is holding nightly rallies and advocacy events, as well as pushing around-the-clock phone calls to the immigration ministry and the Prime Minister's Office requesting the government reconsider its view that desertion does not merit shelter in Canada.

On this overcast afternoon, Zaslofsky, a mustachioed 60-something with bright blue eyes and thinning brown hair, sits at his desk, typing furiously. The wall behind him is papered with posters. One, an image of a soldier with his back turned, reads, "Stop the deportations now" and "War resisters welcome here." Another advises, "Cut and run. In an immoral war, it's the thing to do."

Amid the fliers are several photographs. One shows Jeremy Hinzman, a paratrooper from South Dakota who served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. In 2004, after eight months in Afghanistan and with orders to deploy to Iraq, Hinzman fled north with his wife and 1-year-old son to become the first deserter of his generation to seek political refuge in Canada. Nearby is a picture of Joshua Key, a welder and father of four from Oklahoma who served seven months in Iraq with the 43rd Combat Engineer Company and deserted in 2004. A photograph of a smiling Robin Long before he was deported and imprisoned serves as a sobering reminder of what's at stake.

The deserters have become a tight-knit community, enjoying weekly dinners at a Chinese restaurant near the office, keeping tabs on one another's court cases, and celebrating the babies born to resisters and their spouses. To Zaslofsky, the young men and women have become his surrogate children, and he doesn't want any of them put in jail. Hunched at his computer, he reads a recent e-mail from a soldier at Fort Knox.

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My Voice Nation Help
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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