Ryan Johnson, a slight, bearded 25-year-old from California's Central Valley, who looks more like an organic farmer than a soldier, says he enlisted because he was tired of working factory jobs at places like Frito-Lay and couldn't afford college. His mother, a homemaker, and his stepfather, a UPS driver, kept yellow ribbon bumper stickers on their cars and voted Republican.

Dale Landry, a 23-year-old from the Dallas area who deserted in 2007, joined the Air Force during his senior year of high school. Besides it's enabling him to go to college, he figured the military could be a good path out of low-income, red-state America and into a career in Democratic politics. His mother was a waitress who raised him alone except for a series of husbands who came and went, and he wanted his life to look as different from hers as possible. It does, but he couldn't have predicted that would mean watching from Canada as the first Democrat to win the presidency since Landry was 11 years old took the oath of office.

Another difference between the deserter generations seems to be their level of combat experience. John Hagan, a sociologist at Northwestern University and the author of Northern Passage, a book about the migration of Americans to Canada during Vietnam, says 80 percent of the 25,000 draft-age men who fled to Canada bailed after receiving draft notices and never actually fought.

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.

Now — while the Army's Hall maintains that most deserters are junior troops who leave their units early in their military careers for personal, not moral or philosophical, reasons — the Toronto deserters don't fit that description. Most served for at least two years. Patrick Hart, a former sergeant from New York in the 101st Airborne Division, was an active-duty soldier for nearly 10 years and did one tour in Iraq, while Dean Walcott, of Connecticut, served the Marine Corps for nearly five years and did two Iraq tours.

Unlike soldiers in Vietnam, who did only one tour unless they re-enlisted, today's troops are deployed multiple times, which is making for a new, more battle-tested type of war deserter. Phil McDowell of Rhode Island, for example, joined the Army in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and fled to Canada in 2006 because he received stop-loss orders back to Iraq after he'd already done one tour there and had been discharged.

Regardless of differences between the deserter generations, today's deserters in Canada have a similar unwillingness to fight in an unpopular war. To Zaslofsky, they are even more courageous than were he and his peers. "In a way, I value them a lot more than my generation," he says. "We had this vast anti-war movement to support us and inform our decisions. They don't have that. They've come to this individually, not because of some mass political indoctrination."

Joshua Key's uneasiness about the Army's presence in Iraq began in the first months of the war in 2003 as he served with Fort Carson's 43rd Combat Engineer Company in Ramadi. His platoon would raid one to four houses each night in search of insurgents or evidence of terrorism, but night after night, all they found were tidy, middle-class homes filled with terrified families, he writes in The Deserter's Tale, his autobiography as told to Canadian writer Lawrence Hill.

Drawn from his recollections and with little or no corroboration from other soldiers, the book is a haunting chronicle of the mounting disillusionment that led him to desert. As his unit stormed through Iraqi homes, he recounts, they'd shout at the inhabitants to "Get down!" and "Shut the fuck up!" in English, then knock the men to the ground, often beating them before hauling them off for transport to a detention facility.

"We tore the hell out of those places," Key writes, "blasting apart doors, ripping up mattresses and ripping drawers from dressers. From all our ransacking, we never found anything other than the ordinary goods that ordinary people keep in their houses."

He also tells how the soldiers — him included — would steal from families during the raids, making off with knives, jewelry, gold, cash and, once, a television.

Parts of the book read like scenes out of Apocalypse Now. One chapter tells of an Army specialist who liked to release aggression by body-slamming corpses in a shed, while another shows members of Key's unit coming upon the bodies of dead Iraqis near the Euphrates River and kicking their severed heads around like soccer balls. One day, while riding through Fallujah atop an armored personnel carrier, the sergeant next to him grew annoyed when a pickup swerved in front of their vehicle. Without missing a beat, Key writes that the sergeant "let loose with his .50-caliber machine gun." The bullets tore into the truck's gas tank, transforming it into a fireball and prompting "hollers of delight" from some of the other men.

Perhaps most traumatic for Key was watching, helpless, as a young Iraqi girl he'd befriended while guarding a hospital was felled by M16 gunfire from an unknown location.

All this, he writes, led him to conclude that the American military "had become a force for evil, and I could not escape the fact that I was part of the machine."

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My Voice Nation Help

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.


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.


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


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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