Weill-Greenberg, Elizabeth, The Progressive
Hart Viges, thirty, served with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq. "Anyone who thinks they are going to be treated as heroes or valuable people in the military, they're wrong," he says. "They're property. You're property of the United States government."
Even though Hart came home to Texas in January 2004, he still hasn't totally left Iraq.
"I don't know how many civilians we killed, I don't know how many enemy we killed," says Hart, remembering when he and fellow soldiers were ordered to fire on all taxicabs in Samawa. "I just don't know. I just don't know."
But at a water treatment plant outside Baghdad, Hart caught a man carrying explosives.
"I look into his eyes and his face," he says. "He's not a boogeyman, not a monster. He's scared and confused but recruited like me."
The man escaped from Hart. During the Americans' hunt for him, an Iraqi told them that his neighbors said something bad about Americans. They went to the hut and searched everything. All they found, Hart said, was a family and a small .22 caliber pistol. They arrested two young men.
"The mother was trying to kiss my feet, my cheek, crying," Hart recalls. "I just stood there paralyzed. I just couldn't console her. I told my sergeant, 'These aren't the guys.' He said, 'Don't worry. They're all bad guys.'"
After Hart came home from Iraq in 2004, he had an emotional explosion and finally told his platoon sergeant, "I can't pull the trigger." His sergeant sent him to a chaplain who told him about conscientious objection. Hart applied. He was approved later that year and honorably discharged.
Hart now works in Texas as a waiter and peace activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War. But Iraq has still found him in his Austin home.
Everyday noises, sights, and smells are now deadly threats. The sound of a nail gun makes Hart jump behind trash cans for cover. Headlights flashing in his rearview mirror suddenly become flares from a roadside bomb.
Abbie Pickett, twenty-three, a National Guard soldier and sophomore at Edgewood College, sees the same bombs and enemy fire in her home in Madison, Wisconsin. Abbie signed up for the National Guard when she was seventeen.
Before deploying to Iraq, she worked teaching three-year-olds. Her affection for children was viewed by some as a potential liability in a combat zone.
"Shortly before we left [for Iraq] there were two other refuelers in my unit. One of them sat me down and said, 'We've been talking, and we don't think if it came down to it, you'd be able to kill a kid,'" Abbie recalls, explaining that the soldiers had heard kids sometimes jump in front of convoys. "'Will you be able to shoot a kid if you ever have to?' I didn't even know what to say."
In addition to the usual marks of war--bombings, death, and tedium--Abbie says she also had to contend with corrupt leadership and rampant sexual harassment. She was introduced to the military's misogyny as a nineteen-year-old, when she says she was sexually assaulted by an officer on a two-week training. She never reported it.
But in …
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Publication information: Article title: Homecoming Nightmares. Contributors: Weill-Greenberg, Elizabeth - Author. Magazine title: The Progressive. Volume: 71. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2007. Page number: 21+. © 1999 The Progressive, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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