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A Soldier's Choice: To Re-Up, or Not?


New Hampshire National Guard Sergeant Zack Bazzi has already served three tours of duty in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, and he's just reenlisted, knowing that his unit will be headed for Afghanistan after the first of the year. We first met Sergeant Bazzi this past summer. He was one of several soldiers who filmed their experience in Iraq for a documentary called “The War Tapes.”

Sergeant ZACK BAZZI (New Hampshire National Guard): The main concerns are IEDs, which are improvised explosive devices. Another one is RPGs, which are rocket propelled grenades, bazookas, whatever you want to call them.

NORRIS: I spoke with Zack Bazzi again yesterday and I asked him why he decided to reenlist.

Sergeant BAZZI: I primarily decided to reenlist because I heard about the deployment to Afghanistan. They were looking for volunteers to go on a mission called embedded training routines and you work with and mentor the Afghani army. That seemed like something that I would be good at, something I would enjoy doing and something exciting. And I also think our efforts in Afghanistan are noble and I thought maybe volunteering with that would help out such efforts.

NORRIS: But you've been deployed three times. Why go back?

Sergeant BAZZI: Well, being a soldier is who I am. It's something I enjoy doing. It gives me meaning. I've been in the military my entire adult life and I'm always happiest when I'm in uniform. Not trying to come off here with all this patriotic puff. It's not the case. It's just that it's what I enjoy doing.

Let's say I graduate and got a job at an office somewhere. I can't really say I'd be happy. I'd probably be miserable if anything.

NORRIS: It's interesting to listen to you talk about the war because it's clear in talking to you and in watching the film that you have certain misgivings about the war, specifically the war in Iraq and also about the commander in chief and yet you decided to re-up. Help me understand that.

Sergeant BAZZI: Well, like most Americans I do have my political and personal beliefs. That doesn't stop when you go in the Army. Except in the Army, you just put those on the backburner and you do what you're told as you should be. At the end of the day, members of our military, we serve at the will of our government and the pleasure of our commander in chief, regardless of what political colors and ideological beliefs are. That's just the way it is and that's the way it always will be, and it must be.

NORRIS: Sergeant Bazzi, just so I understand, what are you misgivings about the conflict in Iraq?

Sergeant BAZZI: I think the war in Iraq, roughly 3,000 soldiers have died, several thousand have been maimed and upwards of almost 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. So I feel like if Americans really support a war they need to learn about it. You need to know exactly what you're supporting and what you're getting.

If you look back at the wars we've had over the years, in World War II, there was rationing of goods and products and services, and Vietnam was supported by draft. This war is very interesting. You're being told, well, we're going to give you a tax hike. I guess we'll borrow the money to finance this war. To me that's been the most unfortunate effect of this war, that patriotism has become just jargon. It's become a noun, an adjective. Certainly not a verb. Maybe a verb to talk but not to walk.

NORRIS: Your mother has had a very difficult time with your repeated deployments and you see that in a number of heartbreaking segments in the documentary “The War Tapes.” When you first e-mailed me to say that you were planning to re-up, you noted at that point that you had not told your mother yet.

Sergeant BAZZI: No.

NORRIS: How did that conversation go when you eventually told her?

Sergeant BAZZI: Well, I've yet to tell her I'm going to Afghanistan, actually.

NORRIS: Wait, she doesn't know?

Sergeant BAZZI: No. I haven't told her yet. I'm waiting until after Christmas because, you know, we don't - the whole thing doesn't kick off until early next year in the second month and third month. So I feel like if I tell her three or four months in advance, that would just prolong the stress more than it needs to be. I hope you understand where I'm coming from.

NORRIS: Actually I don't. This is a tough one.

Sergeant BAZZI: Well -

NORRIS: You're willing to approach me about it but you're not - or I assume many others - but you haven't told your mother yet. Why are you avoiding that conversation?

Sergeant BAZZI: Because I think as soon as I let her know, regardless of how I try to rationalize with her, she's going to go in stress mode and I'm trying to save her that.

NORRIS: Sergeant Zack Bazzi, it's always good to talk to you. Please take care of yourself. Please stay safe. Good luck with that conversation with your mother when it finally happens. And please come back and talk to us again.

Sergeant BAZZI: I will do. I think I might get in trouble if she finds out about it on the radio.

NORRIS: I think you might -

Sergeant BAZZI: So I might have to call her right now.

NORRIS: I think that'd be a good idea.

Sergeant BAZZI: I will do. It was good talking to you, Michele.

NORRIS: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.