It was like making a deal with the devil.
“That’s kind of what happened with all these people joining the military,” said Ashlea Brockway, whose husband Jeremy fled to Canada after he refused to return to fight in Iraq.
“It seems like they’re going to give you everything that you want, help you achieve your dreams and goals of being able to see the world, support your family or protect your country.”
But Jeremy’s dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
“You come to the harsh realization that they’re just using you as a pawn,” she said. “They don’t actually care about you or if you achieve any of the things that you set out to do.”
Ashlea and Jeremy were married in July 2006, 10 days before he was deployed to Iraq for a seven month tour. Back then, Jeremy was a healthy, muscular young man. But by the time he returned to the United States, Jeremy looked skeletal with sunken cheeks.
“He wouldn’t get to eat because he was the only person who could do the job that he was assigned and nobody would bring him food,” said Brockway at the Day of Action to support US Iraq war resisters held in Toronto on Saturday.
So Jeremy lived off junk food. He was also severely sleep deprived.
“Every time he went to bed, they would need him since he was the only person that could do his duty,” she said.
Although Jeremy tried to seek help at the time, the military wouldn’t take his concerns seriously. Instead, they sent him up on a roof one night to flush out a sniper. According to Ashlea, he wasn’t warned about the sniper but simply told to go up on the roof to fix an antenna.
That incident opened up Jeremy’s eyes to the harsh reality of how little the military cares about the lives of its soldiers.
Another time, the military refused to bring in a helicopter to remove an injured soldier from a combat zone, saying “It’s cheaper to pay this person’s life insurance than to repair a damaged helicopter.”
Jeremy couldn’t cope with these incidents that seemed to happen all the time.
“You might not want to believe these stories,” said Brockway. “I don’t want to believe them myself.”
When Jeremy got home from Iraq, Ashlea said he was angry and mean all the time. Two months later he was diagnosed with severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. He tried everything to avoid returning to Iraq.
But the army was determined to send him back. So Jeremy contacted the War Resisters Support Campaign and departed to Canada with his wife. They now have two Canadian born children.
“It wasn’t much of a decision because he had also tried to commit suicide while he was on base,” said Brockway. “So I knew if I still wanted to have a husband we needed to come.”
It’s been difficult getting medical help for Jeremy, who still spends most of his days closeted in his room, fearing he may harm his family or scare them if he has a flashback. So he only spends about ten minutes a day with them.
The Brockway’s have been fighting to remain in Canada. Ashlea is convinced that a prison stretch would kill her husband. “Even now when he is semi-safe, he still can’t cope with things,” said Brockway.
Since Ashlea has spoken publicly about their ordeal, a New York based Vietnam veteran, who later studied psychology at university, stepped forward and offered to work with Jeremy to start the healing process.
“It’s also helped with our relationship because when someone has post-traumatic stress, the whole family has post-traumatic stress,” she said.
“Now if we could just get the government to get on board too then it would be hope fulfilled.”