"I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school," the now 24-year-old told AFP.Despite his pledge to remain in the country and face "whatever charges the army levels at me," Chiroux has been branded a coward by the usual suspects. They know that if more and more soldiers decide to honor their oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and "bear true faith and allegiance to the same," the fewer there will be to ship off to kill and die in illegal wars.
"I was 'filet mignon' for recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade," or around 16 years old, he added.
Chiroux joined the US army straight out of high school nearly six years ago, and worked his way up from private to sergeant.
He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.
On Thursday, he refused to go, saying he considers Iraq an illegal war.
"I stand before you today with the strength and clarity and resolve to declare to the military, my government and the world that this soldier will not be deploying to Iraq," Chiroux said in the sun-filled rotunda of a congressional building in Washington.
"My decision is based on my desire to no longer continue violating my core values to support an illegal and unconstitutional occupation. ... I refuse to participate in the Iraq occupation," he said, as a dozen veterans of the five-year-old Iraq war looked on.
But what's most noteworthy about Chiroux is his view of a soldier's personal responsibility in the matter: "I cannot deploy to Iraq, carry a weapon and not be part of the problem." Now, I realize that there are soldiers in Iraq who honestly believe they are fighting for their country and keeping their loved ones safe at home. Others may disagree with the war, but take the "I'm only doing my job" position to justify their participation. My hope is that more members of the military will decide that their first allegiance as soldiers is to the Constitution, not the whim of a warmongering commander in chief, and make the decision not to participate.
Still, Americans have this romantic image of fighting men (and now women) in uniform. Those who take up arms for the government are viewed as courageous, and those who lose their lives in the process are memorialized for making the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Courage, however, is defined not by killing and dying, but by doing what's right regardless of the consequences.