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Voluntary Return from Canada and Discharge from the Army Ten Days Later
By US War Resister Steve Yoczik
Steve Yoczik was a U.S.Army Private in training at Fort Gordon, Georgia when he went AWOL in November, 2006 and moved to Toronto, Canada to resist deployment. http://www.couragetoresist.org/x/content/view/394/86/
Steve writes about his voluntary return to the U.S. from Canada on April 1, 2009 and his subsequent discharge from the military at Fort Knox, KY ten days later.
April 12, 2009
I arrived at the Peace Bridge office of Customs and Border Protection (Under the Dept. of Homeland Security) at around 12:15 on Wednesday the 1st of April. As I was called to a booth to produce identification, I identified myself immediately to the officer as an AWOL soldier with a federal warrant, and that I was surrendering myself into their custody. I was taken to a waiting room and after a few brief questions by border agents, a pat-down and a bathroom break, I was handed over to Buffalo County Sherrif’s Department.
I was placed in the cruiser in handcuffs and driven to the Erie County Holding Center, where I spent the next 17 hours or so. The living conditions in that facility were abysmal; I’m guessing the last sterilization of the place was in the early 70’s.
At around 12:00 on the 2nd, an MP and federal officer arrived to pick me up for transport to Fort Drum, NY. Again I was placed in handcuffs despite total compliance from the very beginning – and this pair was placed tight enough to cut off the circulation in my hands (I couldn’t feel my left thumb for several days after this). On the ride to Fort Drum, approximately 2 ½ hours, I was given information on what to expect in the next 48 hours as far as transport to Fort Knox, and was told I was on my honor to arrive at the Louisville USO on time. The federal officer (I call them rent-a-badges, or RABs) then proceeded to illuminate his beliefs in regard to my decision of resistance and going AWOL, reminding me that I had sworn an oath to protect this country and things of this nature. I cut the conversation short by aggreeing that I had, in fact, sworn to protect the constitution and not to be a corporate pawn, as well as to protect the nation from enemies both foreign and *domestic*.
I spent that night in the MP station’s holding cell, which was left open but still under camera observation. There was no condescending talk from the other RABs or MPs on duty that night, and I woke the next morning early to begin the flight to Louisville.
Once I arrived in Louisville I waited from 12 noon to about 1am, as the MP pickup for AWOL soldiers goes that late “in order to ensure everyone is picked up”. Once at Fort Knox the in-processing began, including fingerprints, an inventory of all my belongings before they were locked away in a safe, and issuing of uniforms that had been worn by countless thousands of others. We were given badges for the ACU uniform that goes in place of the rank, with PCF (Personnel Control Facility) stitched on it. I considered this an award, but that was my interpretation. I also found it interesting that the ACU uniform could be used as an inmate’s coveralls as well as a servicemember’s uniform… or perhaps they are one and the same.
The following week was filled with long hours of waiting for something to happen, whether it was signing papers, answering questions, or random details on base. The highlight of the details I had to do was working at the Patton Museum. The people who were in charge of the task that needed to be completed were retired military or on their way out of the military, and totally sympathized with those of us getting out (though all the others who were being discharged were not getting out for reasons higher than “I hate this crap”, or other more personal reasons). A couple of active service veterans shook hands with us and said getting out now was smart of us, and to not feel shame in this. At no time during my stay at the PCF was I detained physically – there were no bars, no shackles, or anything of that nature. There were cameras everywhere except the rooms (which had no doors) and the bathroom. The RABs that worked here were very discontent with their jobs, however, and made no effort to hide this. Not that I was expecting room service, but the old-school brainwashing was very evident amongst these individuals. Their inability to intimidate us kept their grumbling to a minimum.
We were given the choice between an Other Than Honorable discharge under Chapter 10 of the UCMJ, or to go to a court martial in an attempt to get a higher level of discharge or to try to stay in the Army. Court Martial would have been a lengthy process, with the ultimate result being 90 days detention and dishonorable discharge, unless there was very good argument to stay in or get the upgrade, which I don’t know of.
With this discharge, I was told by my JAG officer who signed my papers that the only significant thing to worry about would be a background check, which would show that I have had a fedral warrant issued for my arrest. I’ve been told that once I get my discharge upgraded that this will disappear.
So with the paperwork process over, we began our outprocessing, and on Friday the 10th we were released with “extended leave” papers, and a “don’t arrest me” paper because the warrants issued on us will not be terminated until a few months after our discharge. In 60 days we receive DD214s confirming our discharge from the military.
I started a bus ride from Louisville (on a military discount that I luckily didn’t have to prove with picture ID) and ended up in DC on Saturday at noon. I’ve been sleeping much better, and have a great sense of relief all about me, but this isn’t the end of my work in the anti-war movement.