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I don't know whether to be pissed off or congratulate the dude... I suffered in the Navy and took it like a man even though I hated it... Where's General Patton when you need him? He was good at slapping around and motivating cowards and losers. It seems this guy is trying to live on the dole, off of the German government.
U.S. Deserter 'Having Time of My Life' as He Seeks Asylum in Germany
KARLSRUHE, Germany -- Germany has been very good to Spec. AndrÃ© L. Shepherd since he deserted the U.S. Army.
The 31-year-old former mechanic of the 601st Aviation Support Battalion is enjoying perks that eluded him back home in Ohio: a bed, a bank account, a cellphone and friends.
Best of all from his standpoint, he isn't back in Iraq.
"I'm having the time of my life," says Mr. Shepherd, the only American bunking at a refugee-processing center in southern Germany.
The U.S. deserter enters uncharted legal territory on Wednesday, when Germany begins weighing his request for political asylum. The case will put to the test a 2004 European Union directive requiring member countries to grant asylum to soldiers protesting unlawful wars.
He walked away from the military for his convictions. Now, U.S. Army deserter Andre Shepherd seeks political asylum in Germany. WSJ's Mike Esterl reports.
Mr. Shepherd could wind up in a U.S. jail if his application is rejected, but a favorable ruling could open a new escape hatch for Americans stationed in Germany who want to avoid combat duty in Iraq. About 38,000 American soldiers are stationed in Germany, a key logistical hub for the U.S. Army.
Mr. Shepherd has no shortage of supporters. Punk rockers gave him shelter after he decamped from a military base near Nuremberg in 2007 and went into hiding. Dozens of peace organizations have championed his cause since he turned himself in to German authorities late last year and applied for asylum.
"He's our poster boy," says Tim Huber of the Military Counseling Network, part of the German Mennonite Peace Committee, a nongovernmental organization helping finance Mr. Shepherd's legal campaign.
The U.S. Army says 71 soldiers deserted from its European bases last year, a mere sliver of the roughly 3,500 soldiers who deserted world-wide over the past year. It says it doesn't actively pursue most deserters, who make up less than 1% of the enlisted force in any given year.
[U.S. Army deserter Andr[eacute] Shepherd, left, is seeking asylum in Germany with the help of peace activist Ulli Thiel, right.] Mike Esterl/ The Wall Street Journal
U.S. Army deserter AndrÃ© Shepherd, left, is seeking asylum in Germany with the help of peace activist Ulli Thiel, right. His hearing is Wednesday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army in Europe said the military is aware of the asylum case but that it is "completely in German hands." If Mr. Shepherd is returned to U.S. custody, though, he could face up to five years in prison under military laws.
Mr. Shepherd was raised in a tough Cleveland neighborhood before moving as a teenager to the suburb of Lakewood. He eventually studied computer science at Kent State University but says he left without a degree in 2000 after running out of money.
He worked several low-paying jobs and says he lived in a 1994 Dodge Intrepid for several months in 2001 because he couldn't afford rent.
Mr. Shepherd was again living in a car -- a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am -- in December 2003 when he walked into an Army recruitment center in Lakewood and signed up. The new recruit was deployed to Camp Speicher in northern Iraq in September 2004, where he helped repair Apache helicopters. He didn't see action but had some contact with Iraqis who worked on the base. "None of them looked like they were happy to see their liberators," he says.
After he was reassigned in February 2005 to a desk job at a base in Katterbach in southern Germany, Mr. Shepherd spent his free time researching the Iraq war on the Internet. He says he grew convinced the U.S. occupation was harmful -- and that he had been contributing to civilian deaths by servicing armed Apaches.
He also married after meeting a German woman online. The union lasted less than a year.
The clean-cut soldier was sitting in a Nuremberg cafÃ© in the summer of 2006 when he fell into a conversation with Johannes Berner, a German student sporting a rainbow-colored Mohawk haircut, a black leather jacket with spikes, and a red kilt.
"I was like, 'Wow, this is different,'" recalls Mr. Shepherd.
But the two agreed on Iraq and became fast friends. Mr. Berner introduced Mr. Shepherd to his "punker" friends in Prien, a picturesque town near the Austrian border.
In April 2007, after Mr. Shepherd got word he would soon be redeployed to Iraq, he slipped away to Prien and was taken in by Mr. Berner's friends. Eventually he settled into an old farmhouse with a view of the Alps. One of the residents played drums in a local punk band and Mr. Shepherd performed household chores in lieu of rent.
Nights were often spent at the Piraten Pub. At a bachelor party, he put on a blond wig and women's clothing to hand out cigars. He also found a girlfriend among an expanding circle of about two dozen friends. "He loved it, all the craziness," says the 25-year-old Mr. Berner.
Mr. Shepherd, who is African-American, says many locals assumed he was from Africa. But he grew increasingly worried about being tracked down by the U.S. Army after showing his military identification card to inquisitive German police. Last November, with the help of German peace organizations, he applied for asylum.
Germany's interior ministry declined to comment ahead of Mr. Shepherd's asylum hearing. A German lawyer for the soldier says authorities often take from several weeks to half a year to issue a ruling.
In the meantime, Mr. Shepherd has his own room and bunk bed at a sprawling refugee center. The German government provides him with meals and allows him to move freely around the Karlsruhe area. He stays in touch with German friends by mobile phone and takes language classes offered by an asylum support group.
He recently joined the teacher, an elderly German woman, and half a dozen asylum seekers from Gambia in a rap song that began, "Ja und nein. Apfelwein. Lorelei ist am Rhein." ("Yes and no. Apple wine. Lorelei is on the Rhine.")
Alexander Zmijewski, the soldier's best friend back in Ohio, says he hasn't heard from Mr. Shepherd since late 2004. A construction worker, he says he's "lucky to be working" as he tries raising a family and questions Mr. Shepherd's decision to desert. "If I put my name on something, I like to honor that," says the 32-year-old Lakewood resident.
But Mr. Shepherd says he didn't know then what he knows now. "I was suckered," he says.
The deserter has found a new helping hand in Ulli Thiel, a 65-year-old peace activist in Karlsruhe. Mr. Thiel and his wife recently set up a bank account in the soldier's name, and they deposit about â‚¬200 (about $262) a month so he has spending money.
Mr. Shepherd says he hopes to finish his university degree in Karlsruhe if he wins asylum and that he could happily spend the rest of his life in Germany.
"It's just amazing here," he said one morning recently in Mr. Thiel's living room as his German host poured him a cup of coffee.
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.
I'd applaud him. After all, why should he be forced to go to a war he doesn't believe in, and risk his life and limbs? Just cause it's your duty and you're supposed to? That kind of logic is only for the brainwashed.
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Well for one thing he VOLUNTEERED to join the Army. What do you do in the Army? You learn to shoot and kill people. If he was afraid of fighting or had second thoughts of being in Iraq, he should have joined the Navy or Air Force. He is just a slouch or fink in my opinion.
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