An AWOL guardsman who refuses to return to Iraq duty plans to turn himself in and become the first soldier to publicly challenge the conflict
By Michael Martinez
March 15, 2004, 1:55 PM EST
NEW YORK -- In Iraq last April, freshly promoted Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia led squads of Florida National Guard soldiers in the fight against insurgents in the deadly Sunni triangle.
But Mejia, a native of Miami, became increasingly pained by his war experiences, and when he went on leave in the autumn, he decided not to come back. The staff sergeant--one of about 600 soldiers counted as AWOL by the Army during home leaves from Iraq--eventually was labeled a deserter.
Now, after five months in hiding, Mejia plans to surrender Monday in Boston on the eve of the war's first anniversary, and he aims to become the first Iraq war veteran to publicly challenge the morality and conduct of the conflict. At a time when polls indicate that Americans' support for the war is slipping, Mejia intends to seek conscientious-objector status to avoid a court-martial.