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June 05, 2008
RETURN TO SENDER
Name: Colby Buzzell
Posting date: 6/5/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Milblog: My War
When I voluntarily enlisted in the Army, I remember asking my recruiter about the fine print on the contract about being called back up to active duty once my enlistment was completed. He assured me not to worry, that every contract said that and it would only happen if "World War III" broke out.
That was a little over five years ago. After serving in Iraq, I elected to use my GI Bill to enroll in a photography course at San Francisco City College. I felt good, and I had a feeling that the days to come were all going to be good as well.
On way out of my building two weeks ago, I checked my mailbox and found a letter from the Department of the Army with "Important Document" printed in all caps on the middle. I immediately felt sick, so I went back to my room, locked the door, grabbed a beer from the fridge and stared out my window for a while.
People outside were all wearing sunglasses and walking about enjoying the sun. I took a picture.
I got out of the Army three long years ago, and since then I've never really talked ill of the military, the people in it, or expressed any regrets at all about enlisting. If I had to do it all over again, I honestly would have. Granted, I got lucky and made it back with all my body parts intact. If I hadn't, my answer might be a little bit different than what it is now.
As terrible as this might sound, whenever someone asks me about enlisting, I'm tempted to encourage them. I figure that the more people who enlist, the slimmer the chances that I'll get called back up. But of course this is ridiculous: No one in their right mind would enlist now, whereas I've already signed the papers. I'm now going back to Iraq for a second time because people like me -- existing service members -- are the only people at the Army's disposal.
Looking back, would I have joined the military if I were doing something that I loved? Or had a job that paid $100,000 a year? Probably not. Those are the men and women I feel that we need to mail these letters to.
Let's see what happens when they receive letters telling them to put on a uniform and ship out immediately to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many people believe that the draft ended the Vietnam War. I'm convinced that reinstating the draft would definitely end this war. Rich, connected people will always find a way to evade mandatory service, but what about the rest of America? The middle class -- people with good jobs and nice lives -- would perhaps riot if the government even suggested that it expected from them what the Army expects from veterans.
What if there were a war and none of the veterans who were called up showed up?
Every time when I hear about a soldier's death now -- which is always reported very briefly -- there always seems to be a short mention that it was the soldier's second or third deployment, and now my name might be among them.
I know I won't get any sympathy at all from the "you dumb ass you signed the contract!" crowd, which is fine, but I really was looking forward to applying my GI Bill to photography classes so I could learn how to take pictures. But now, thanks to not enough Americans volunteering for military service, I have to worry about my picture appearing on the second or third page of my hometown paper with the words, "it was his second deployment" in my obituary.
Colby Buzzell proudly served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003-04. He is the author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq, for which he won the Lulu Blooker prize in 2007. He lives in San Francisco and spends his free time going on long walks with his camera.
Note: This post was previously published in the San Francisco Chronicle.