BERLIN A U.S. Army medic jailed for desertion after refusing to return to Iraq is on a mission to tell young Americans about the grim realities of war before they join the military.
Mexican-born combat medic Agustin Aguayo, in Germany to receive a peace award, told Reuters that U.S. Army recruitment methods were unfair as young people got a one-sided, positive picture of combat.
"I want to bring young people awareness. We ask them to sacrifice so much yet we don't educate them about the realities of war," said Aguayo, who describes himself as a conscientious objector, in a telephone interview on Monday.
Aguayo, who had been stationed in Germany, was sentenced to eight months behind bars in March after escaping through a window at his base in 2006 and missing his unit's redeployment to Iraq. In 2004 he had served one term as a medic in Iraq, refusing to load his gun while on guard duty.
With his prison term over, Aguayo visits U.S. schools to warn potential recruits about the pain and suffering soldiers and their families experience, especially in hotspots like Iraq.
He lambasted the way military recruiters go to schools and promise students positive experiences.
"They don't hear what it is like to kill someone, to see a friend die, to hurt another human, to be in an occupied country, shooting someone at close range. It's really unfair."
Aguayo is still involved in a legal battle to be recognized as a conscientious objector by the Army and the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear his case.
He expects to be officially discharged from the Army once legal proceedings are wound up.
The 36-year-old, who lives with his wife and two daughters in California, said he does not want to stop people from joining the Army but is keen to ensure they do not make a mistake.
A critic of the Iraq war, Aguayo said he was naive when he joined up and his stint in Iraq contributed to his transformation to a conscientious objector.
"(I saw) what happens to regular soldiers, the hate, the racism, the total disrespect for humanity that develops," he said, noting that as a medic he had not killed or hurt anyone.
Aguayo said young people generally welcomed his talks in schools and he said it was a shame so few veterans speak out.
"Soldiers who return from Iraq need a lot of psychological care. It is hard for those who come back to speak out," he said.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Giles Elgood)