NORTH MIAMI, Fla. – A soldier who refused to return to Iraq because he was disturbed by a gunfight that killed innocent civilians reported to the Florida National Guard (search) on Tuesday in preparation for seeking conscientious objector status. National Guard officials said he was considered a deserter.
Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia (search) walked into the North Miami Armory after repeating his determination not to return to the Middle East and fight.
"I'm prepared to go to prison because I'll have a clear conscience," Mejia said.
Mejia, 28, of Miami Beach, was in Iraq for about five months until October, when he returned home on leave. He did not return to duty. He surrendered Monday at an Air Force base in Massachusetts and was ordered to return to Florida and report to the Florida National Guard.
"This is an oil-driven war, and I don't think any soldier signs up to fight for oil," Mejia said Monday after arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Florida National Guard spokesman Jon Myatt said Mejia had been classified as a deserter because he was missing from his unit for more than 30 days.
Myatt said a warrant to arrest Mejia as a deserter could be issued if Mejia failed to appear Wednesday at the Army's Fort Stewart, Ga., where his unit — the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment — is deployed from.
National Guard Maj. Kip Lassner explained that Mejia was under Army orders and not Guard jurisdiction. He would not discuss potential penalties that Mejia could face, and a spokesman at Fort Stewart did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Mejia was accompanied to the armory by his mother, an aunt and Spc. Oliver Perez, who served with him. Perez said Mejia is "a brave leader" and should not be prosecuted.
"I fought next to him in many battles. He is not a coward," Perez said.
Mejia said he was particularly upset over an incident in Iraq in which he and others were ambushed and innocent civilians were hit in the ensuing gunfire.
Mejia, a native of Nicaragua, is a permanent resident of the United States who served in the Army for three years. He had served in the National Guard for five years when his unit was called to active duty. In civilian life, he was a psychology student at the University of Miami (search).
Mejia said he joined the military so he could work his way into American society. He could not say whether he might be deported because of his refusal to serve, but said "whatever sacrifice I have to make, I have to go there."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, a commander said two U.S. Army medics there have applied for conscientious objector status. Capt. Todd Grissom said the two, both privates first class, notified the Army of their request on Feb. 9, the day before their Germany-based 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment deployed to Iraq.
The two want to be honorably discharged from the military because the idea of killing is "revolting" to them, Grissom said Tuesday.
Grissom would not identify the two soldiers, saying only that they come from California and Illinois. Their requests were being investigated, he said.