AWOL Soldiers On The Outside Looking In

Kyle Snyder, 23, right, a Colorado Springs,Colo., soldier who fled to Canada rather than return to Iraq, speaks with reporters Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006, in Louisville, Ky., as his attorney James Fennerty , left, looks on. Snyder is on his way to Fort Knox to turn himself in to military authorities. AP

Since going to Canada to avoid another deployment to Iraq, Corey Glass has considered returning to the United States.

But after hearing that a fellow former soldier who surrendered to the military was ordered to return to his unit instead of being discharged, Glass may not return at all.

"They're not going to win the hearts and minds like that," said Glass, 24, who signed on with the Indiana National Guard in 2002.

Kyle Snyder, a one-time combat engineer who joined the military in 2003, disappeared Wednesday, a day after surrendering at Fort Knox and 18 months after fleeing to Vancouver instead of redeploying to Iraq.

Snyder, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said a deal had been reached for a discharge, but he found out he would be returned to his unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

His troubles are complicating efforts for those among the 220 American soldiers who fled to Canada and want to return to the United States, according to lawyers, soldiers and anti-war activists.

"Nobody's going to come back from Canada anymore," said James Fennerty, a Chicago-based attorney who represents Snyder and other AWOL soldiers.

Several soldiers who went to Canada have said they don't want to return to Iraq. Sgt. Patrick Hart, who deserted the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division in August 2005, a month before his second deployment, said he felt misled about the reasons for the war.

"How can I go over there if I don't believe in the cause? I still consider myself a soldier, but I can't do that," said Hart, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who served more than nine years in the military.

"The whole story behind it, it all feels like a big lie," Glass said. "I ain't fighting for no lie."

Fennerty said he reached a deal with the Army allowing Snyder, a private with the 94th Engineer Battalion, to receive an other-than-honorable discharge.

It's a deal similar to one Darrell Anderson, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, received in October. After three days at Fort Knox, Anderson, who has denounced the war as "illegal" and "immoral," was released to his family in Lexington, then discharged.

But Snyder ended up at a bus station in Louisville, with orders to go to St. Louis, then Fort Leonard Wood. Snyder, who said the brutality of what he saw happening to civilians in Iraq prompted him to desert, left with an anti-war activist instead of going back to the post.

Gini Sinclair, a Fort Knox spokeswoman, declined to address Snyder's case. But she said deserters who turn themselves in are automatically returned to their units if the unit is in the United States at the time of surrender. Once reunited with the unit, the commander there decides what becomes of the soldier, Sinclair said.

When a soldier surrenders at Fort Knox and is sent to his unit, he is either put on a plane or a bus, sometimes alone, she said.

"In some cases, they will be escorted," Sinclair said. "I don't know what decides if that happens."

That policy, and the question of whether an AWOL soldier can reach a deal that trumps it, is causing consternation among soldiers.

"After what they did to him, I don't see anybody going back," said Glass, a Fairmount, Ind., native who is currently in Toronto.

Some are seeking refugee status in Canada. Hart, who was joined in Toronto by his wife and their 3-year-old son, served time in Bosnia in the early 1990s, became a reserve, then went to Iraq after returning to active duty. The idea of returning to the United States is appealing to Hart, because he would like to see family and friends.

"I could see going back under some kind of amnesty program or something like that," Hart said. "But I don't trust them. My enemy isn't foreign now. It's domestic."
  • Alfonso Serrano

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