Tim Richard left his family, friends and way of life to stand up for what he believes in. His stance has led him to be labelled a coward at times.
Richard, a California-born, Iowa-raised American, served in the National Guard for six years. Richard, 24, is now a music student at Western.
He explained why he deserted the National Guard.
“My contract had expired and they decided to extend my contract for me and send me to Iraq,” he said.
Richard said his contract was extended by 25 years without his approval.
According to Richard, other soldiers were extending their contracts and enlisting solely because of the financial rewards offered by the government.
He said he decided to desert after a mock invasion of an Iraqi village.
“We had to go into the village and detain the people,” he said. “In the process of that I shot two people with the blanks. The adrenaline is going and you don’t really think about it at the time.
“When you stop you realize if this was Iraq, these people would be dead. They weren’t doing anything wrong; they were just trying to defend their home.
“When you meet people who have been to Iraq, they tell you the most horrific stories. How they had to shoot children, how they were ordered to open fire on cars loaded with families.
“I joined the army with the idea that I would be defending America. But Iraq has nothing to do with defending America.”
Richard deserted the National Guard in November 2005. He started attending Western in the fall of 2006.
“I did have to pay some personal prices,” Richard said. “My marriage broke up over it. Not to mention [I lost] what I had identified myself as, which was a U.S. soldier, a very patriotic American.
“At the same time, I did what I felt was the right thing to do — which was not to participate in something I knew to be wrong. So I don’t regret doing that.”
Richard could come to Canada because he had a right to citizenship through his father.
If he returns to the U.S., Richard said he’ll be court-martialed. While he knows deserters who were given a slap on the wrist, the maximum penalty for desertion during war time is capital punishment.
According to Richard, the federal warrant for his arrest lasts 40 years.
“They just last year picked up a guy who was a Vietnam War draft dodger. Thirty-seven years later they picked him up, arrested him and sent him down for court-martial.
Richard says he’s heard stories of caught deserters sent to military prison who are taunted and beaten by fellow soldiers.
“It’s really frightening,” he said. “Right now there’s such a cult around the military in the U.S. If a soldier does anything weird it’s seen as this massive violation of public trust.
“Desertion is seen as cowardice rather than standing up for your own beliefs. To call us cowards for standing up for what’s right — that’s sad.
“The easy way would have been to go to Iraq, shut up, collect my paycheck, shoot some civilians and be done with it.
“It will be a long, long time before [Iraq war deserters] feel welcome in a public way in the U.S.”