(By Anna Piekarski, originally published in the Toronto Star, September 1 2006)
When Corey Glass joined the National Guard in Indiana four years ago, he thought he would be doing things like filling sand bags to stop a flood on American soil. Instead, he was sent to Iraq.
But Glass found he couldn't fight a war he didn't believe in. When he was given a two-week leave to return home, he deserted. After seven months in hiding, he fled to Toronto, where he is seeking refugee status.
"I knew war was wrong before I went, but I signed a contract and I was going to fulfil my end of the bargain, right or wrong, and eventually my conscience just caught up with me," he said.
"I feel horrible for being a part of it. If I could apologize to those people (Iraqis), every single one, I would."
The 23-year-old signed up for an eight-year stint with the National Guard in 2002.
"They told me I was signing up for the humanitarian branch of the service, where we would help during floods and natural disasters, things like that. The only way we would be activated is if there were troops on the ground in the States. That's what they led me to believe."
Glass reached the rank of sergeant after three years and was sent to California to join a military unit. He was in the state for two weeks before he was deployed to Iraq
Those like Glass, who joined the National Guard before the Iraq war began, often signed up because they could get money for tuition or because it was a good part-time job, said Lt. Col. Deidra Thombleson, a spokesperson for the Indiana National Guard. She said many of these people have been sent overseas and she "hasn't heard complaints from anyone."
She said she did not have statistics on how many people have deserted.
A telecommunications specialist, Glass set up computer and telephone systems before leaving for the Middle East. There, he became a radio operator and later worked in intelligence.
He said the images he saw were terrifying, although he declined to describe what he saw. Even after deserting, he said he would not reveal classified information.
He told his superiors he wanted to be sent home, but they told him he was just under stress. He was given two weeks of leave and sent back to the U.S. After spending five months in Iraq, he knew he couldn't go back for the remainder of his 18-month tour. So he disappeared.
He hid for seven months, often sleeping on friends' couches or camping.
When he heard about other deserters in Canada, he contacted the War Resisters Support Campaign office in Toronto.
The war resisters' website lists nine other men who have fled to Canada, including Jeremy Hinzman, whose request for refugee status was turned down by the Immigration and Refugee Board. His case is now before the Federal Court of Appeal.