Once on tour, now anti-war, student soldier won’t go to Iraq

Courtney Lewis

Delayed in an airport, Paul Stoetzel only needed a page to know if he could go home for the holiday break or if he’d go to Kuwait.

He was waiting for an order from his commanding officer while former President Clinton decided whether to send more soldiers to the Middle East for peacekeeping.

Stoetzel was able to go home. But that memory from 1999 still doesn’t sit well with the Wisconsin National Guardsman, whose experiences in the military make him anxious about the situation in Iraq.

Stoetzel is still a member of the National Guard. But now, he is also a member of Students Against War and says he would refuse to fight if activated for duty in Iraq.

He said his job as a grenade thrower in Korea made him question how wars are fought.

“It was terrifying. I never knew if I killed a man,” Stoetzel said. “That’s a terrible thing to live with.”

It wasn’t all gunfire. Most of the time, Stoetzel said he and fellow soldiers sat around and played video games.

He became an anti-war advocate after enrolling at the University following his 1999-2000 tour in Korea. Now, he said his goal is to educate students and protesters about the military.

The senior film student said his experiences taught him there are two sides to every story. While he said the military has taught him leadership skills, there is a darker side that disturbs him.

In his battalion, one soldier couldn’t read and another had incurred enormous credit card debt.

He said it scared him that men that ignorant were allowed to carry weapons and protect the squad.

“They’ll really let anyone in,” Stoetzel said.

He said a favorite pastime of his battalion was going to clubs with waitresses called “drinking girls,” many of which were prostitutes.

The soldiers would acquire passes to leave their base, and Stoetzel said up to one-third of the squad would leave at a time.

He said even overhearing conversations from fellow soldiers made him cringe.

“Talks at night were so narrow-minded and racist,” Stoetzel said. “It was hard to listen to how uneducated those men were.”

But he said the chance to travel across Korea with the country’s officers and policemen gave him an irreplaceable world perspective.

“We had the opportunity to learn about the culture in their country, although not a lot of people took advantage of that,” he said.

Stoetzel said he’s still in the National Guard because the Wisconsin chapter pays 100 percent of his tuition.

And he said he’s not worried about being called to war.

“The National Guard would be in the back of the action doing stupid details,” he said.

Stoetzel said his involvement with groups such as Students Against War and Veterans Against War is his way of informing people with an “inside perspective” of what war entails.

He said he hopes people will get informed before getting involved.

“I’m never going to say there’s a clean-cut answer,” Stoetzel said. “I believe what one of my professors said: ‘You have to learn about something before you can call it evil.’ “


Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]