US Army Sergeant Matthis Chiroux Refuses to Deploy to Iraq

Democracy Now
June 17, 2008

Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, served in the Army until being honorably  discharged last summer after over four years of service in  Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines. On Sunday, he  publicly announced his intention to refuse orders to deploy to Iraq.  He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

AMY GOODMAN: A US Army reservist who publicly refused to deploy to  Iraq last month may face prosecution from the military after refusing  to report for active duty with his unit in South Carolina.

Sergeant Matthis Chiroux served in the Army for five years, with  tours in Afghanistan, Japan, Germany and the Philippines. He was  honorably discharged last summer and was placed in the Individual  Ready Reserves, a pool of former soldiers who can be "reactivated"  and ordered to deploy to war.

Last month, Sergeant Chiroux announced he would not deploy to Iraq.  He made the announcement in the Capitol Hill Rotunda after members of  Iraq Veterans Against the War testified before the Congressional
Progressive Caucus during Winter Soldier on the Hill.

On Sunday, Father's Day, the deadline for Chiroux to report for  active duty expired. Chiroux now joins us from Washington, D.C.  Matthis Chiroux, welcome to Democracy Now!

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So tell us what is happening right now. When were you  supposed to deploy or report for active duty?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: OK, I was supposed to report Sunday, Father's  Day. I did not. I was in Washington, D.C. with the Iraq Veterans  Against the War at their chapter house. I gave a short speech on the  porch of our house there, and I stood with my dad, and I
kept my  promise to the military, I kept my promise to my country, to refuse  an illegal order to participate in an unlawful occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens now?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, right now it's turned into a bit of a  waiting game, as far as the military goes. You know, I made my  intentions clear, and then I followed through on them, and I'm  waiting to hear from the military.

There's no real way I can know what consequences to face here. You  know,
many, many members of the Individual Ready Reserve, about  15,000 of them, have been called up since the beginning of this  occupation of Iraq, and only 7,500 of them have reported. So there's  about half there that's unaccounted for. And many of those  individuals have been ignored by the military, as they should be. It  is an illegal order to call up and deploy to Iraq. Others have been  charged with desertion. So, during a time of war, actually, desertion  can be punishable by death. So, you know, my spectrum of consequence
is in the situation range literally anywhere from nothing to death.
  So I will wait faithfully in the United States, as I promised to do,  to see how the military will react.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, why did you sign up and when
did you sign up?

I signed up about a month after I got out of  high school. I was a very, very poor student in Auburn, Alabama. I  graduated high school with nothing more than a 2.1, no real money in  my bank account, no prospects for a good job or education. And, you  know, I joined the military primarily looking for personal progress,  though after enlisting and after spending 4th of July, you know,
three weeks before I reported for basic training here in Washington,  D.C. with my mother, I also felt proud about the fact that I would be  participating in the global war on terror, to bring to justice those
individuals who perpetrated 9/11, or the events of 9/11, anyway, on  this country. So I joined both out of a desire to pave a way forward  to a career and to university and also to spend some time serving the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: And what year was it that you signed up?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: 2002. I was in the military from August 1,  2002­I reported to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky­to July 31,  2007, when I was honorably discharged from Heidelberg, Germany.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you go to Iraq?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I've never been to Iraq, ma'am. This would have  been my first tour. Fortunately­well, by nothing more than good  fortune, my five years in the military, all after September 11th, I  was never asked to deploy to Iraq. And I'm quite thankful for that,  because I think I would have been facing a very similar situation as I am now.

I have­there has never been any lack of disgust for the Iraq  occupation on my behalf. You know, I remember quite clearly watching  the invasion while I was still in Army journalism school in Fort  Meade, Maryland. I remember watching it on my company's big screen  television and feeling entirely shocked and awed to see what was  going on at the other end of those cameras in Baghdad and know that  our actions were not sanctioned by the international community and  were, you know, coming on­at the word of a few people who were saying  Saddam Hussein is a threat. So since that time, since the invasion,  I've been against this occupation to various degrees. But  fortunately, I was never unlawfully asked to serve there until now.

AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Afghanistan, I went to in 2005, although only  for a very short stint. I was an Army journalist working for General  B.B. Bell at the time. He was still the commander of US Army Europe.  And we went down to catch up with a unit from Hohenfels, Germany, a  training unit that was in fact only supposed to be assisting other  soldiers who were training in Hohenfels, Germany. They had been  deployed as a non-deployable unit under the direct command of a  Romanian battalion, and I went down to Afghanistan to tell the  stories of those soldiers deployed with that unit.

But, Amy,
my combat experience is very limited, and I don't want  anybody to feel like I'm trying to hide that point. I never  discharged a round in a combat zone, and I never took one, either.  But that does not make me any less qualified to determine or to  choose between, as I'm required to, a lawful and an unlawful order  and either following or refusing those orders alike.

Matthis Chiroux, you were a military reporter?


AMY GOODMAN: What did you do?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I spent a lot of time writing stories and  taking photographs in the interest of the commands that I served.  It's a smaller career field in the Army, but it's a very highly
creative and independent field, where you spend a lot of time  producing, like I said, stories, photographs, coordinating  interviews, coordinating transportation to wind up where you need to
be to conduct your interviews and produce a story, basically just  like anything any civilian journalist would do, except
at the end of  the day my duty was not as much to the truth as it was to the truth  that the Army wanted not just its soldiers to see it, but civilians  on the outside.

So, you know, for example, I once did a story about a Romanian  soldier who had been wounded in Afghanistan. He had had his leg blown  off by a mine, and I went to interview him at the hospital to produce
a really­you know, to produce a piece for the US Army Europe  quarterly magazine about basically how we, as the American Army, were  so generous by agreeing to treat a coalition soldier in a US Army  hospital. Now, this story came at quite a personal expense for me.  When I went to do it at the hospital, he was one out of about, I  believe, sixty-five men and women who had lost limbs in either  Afghanistan or Iraq, and I went to do the story about the Romanian  guy, ignoring the dozens of other American troops who had also been  suffering greatly in combat, but their stories could not make us  look, I guess, nearly as well as this Romanian guy who we were caring for.

And, you know, I'll never actually forget leaving the ward that day.  And there was a young man, couldn't have been more than nineteen  years old, lying on a gurney, and he was missing both arms and legs,  and he looked over at me, because I had the camera, and I was there  with the story, and he said, "Hey, are you a journalist?" And I said,  "Yeah, I'm from the US Army Europe, and I'm here to cover this story  about this Romanian troop right down the hall. Do you know him?" And  to which he just got really quiet and distant and looked at me and  said, "Sixty-five blue-blooded Americans on this hall, and the  journalist shows up to do the story about the Romanian. That's cold-blooded."

And I remember looking back at this young man and having­feeling like  my diaphragm was being sucked down my thighs, because what could I  tell this guy? You know, "Yes, I am here to do the happy, rosy story  about the Romanian who's getting taken care of. I'm not here to talk  to you. And­but that's my job, just as it was your job to do whatever  you were doing when you got your legs blown off." It was my job to  produce stories in the manner which my leadership told me to write  them and told me to produce them.

So, situations like that­I mean, that's a particularly poignant one  for me in my mind, but typically situations like that, where
I would  be telling a story, I would be writing a story based in fact, based  in quote, but I would also be limiting the scope of that story to the  topic which would make the military look like it was really taking  care of its people, make it look like it was really taking care of  coalition troops and, you know, make it look like it was really  accomplishing something, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any place in  the world that I served. I had the very unique experience of spending  more than four-and-a-half years overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you raise that story, Matthis, with your editor? Did you say­

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely, I did. Yes, I did. I raised it, and  I told him I thought it was terrible and that actually that  experience kind of affected me­well, very much affected me for  awhile. And, you know, it came less than a year before I got out of  the military. And that was­that one was what put the nail in the  coffin for me. I didn't­I was disgusted that
I was being ordered to,  like I said, produce a story about this guy, to go in and have to  interview a
[Rumenian] man who has had his leg blown off in somebody else's war  not but a week earlier and to not be able to report about the fact  that when I interviewed him, I was in full protective gear, because  this young man had contracted a bacteria from the sands of  Afghanistan that is spreading pretty rampantly, or at least at the  time was, through Army hospitals all over the world, and he was  inside an isolation chamber where, you know, all the oxygen was  flowing in, rather than out, to try and keep his bacteria contained. And­

AMY GOODMAN: What was the bacteria?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I believe it started with an "A." I'm not a  doctor, but it was something like "acetobacteria" or something like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And you didn't describe what he looked like, where he was?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely not. Well, I took a couple of photos  of him. You know, those are still out around online. But I didn't­

AMY GOODMAN: And did the military newspaper run the photos?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: It was posted on a website. It was released on  a military newswire. As well, it was published in US Army Europe's  quarterly magazine, which I helped to, you know, shoot for, write,  edit and produce, EurArmy magazine.

AMY GOODMAN: You just couldn't explain why he was in­

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: No, I didn't­I didn't report­I didn't report on  the bacteria.

AMY GOODMAN: You just couldn't explain why he was in that isolation chamber.

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I knew why he was in that isolation  chamber, but the fact is, for us to be broadcasting to the world, you  know, however necessary it may be that we have a Romanian soldier  here that's in isolation, not but a week after, you know, having his  leg blown off, because he's got a bacteria that's spreading  throughout all kinds of Army hospitals, you know, that does not paint  the rosy picture that the military requires most of its journalists to paint.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did your editors say when you asked if you  could cover the US soldiers, like the one who had his arms and legs blown off?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I didn't ask "Could I?" I asked why we  didn't, why we wouldn't. And she said it's not in line with our  strategic goals. We had a strategy map for US Army Europe, a command  information strategy map, which outlined about seven or eight  different points that we wanted to be advertising to the world and to  our soldiers. And I believe while one of them was talk about US Army  Europe healthcare and why it's so good and so top-notch, but one of  the main strategic goals of working for that magazine was to foster  positive relationships between the US military and militaries of  emerging allies in the East, such as Romania or Poland, you know, all  of these former bloc states and just Eastern states that are now  contributing troops to efforts both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we only have fifty seconds  left on the satellite, and I want to ask you what happens to you now.  On Sunday, you announced you're not going to report for duty. Are you  AWOL? Are you absent without leave?

SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I'm not absent without leave until they  tell me I'm absent without leave. To me, I'm following the US  Constitution. I'm upholding the law, and I'm going to continue  behaving as such. I refuse to be labeled or be shamed by these  actions. I refuse to behave like a criminal. I am going to stay here  in Washington, D.C., until at least Thursday. I've been here for the  past two-and-a-half weeks lobbying members of Congress to come out in  official support of resisters to the Iraq occupation for cause of its  unconstitutional nature, as well as being waged in violation of  international laws and the like. I believe we've made progress, and I  believe­Thursday, I believe members of Congress will be coming out in  support of war resisters.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we're going to leave it there,  and I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, as of  Sunday, he has publicly announced that he is refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.