A Shrinking Base
Gibbins lacks the sense of, well, reserve that keeps some career soldiers quiet about the election or the war.
"They ought to shoot the person who made us go over there," he says.
Gibbins has been grafted to a unit here for a year, and for now he's mostly guarding the base. He's a mechanic but like many reservists is being retrained as a military police officer. "If they sent us over there now, we'd die," he says.
Gibbins was on the crew that helped clean up after the crash of the Columbia space shuttle. He wears a shirt with this quote from Bush: "The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth. Yet we can pray they are safely home."
"This does not -- I repeat -- does not show my support for Bush," he says. "I'm supporting the crew."
Even outside the reserves, it's not hard to find people who are newly disillusioned. They are parents who lost children, soldiers who went over and found it hard to maintain the sense that Iraqis were evil, or that their commanders had everything under control. They've become antiwar, and some are anti-Bush, but they don't sound like the usual suspects.
Jean Prewitt's son was with the 3rd Infantry Division and was killed three weeks into war. But she swears that has nothing to do with her opposition to the war. She's just been reading the papers, she says, and can't fight the sense that "we find out more and more each day how we were lied to. We went there for no good reason. It's just so big and tragic and horrible."
Her sister sent her a clipping about a group called Military Families Speak Out, and she joined. "A lot of them are radical, peace not war, that kind of thing, and I'm not one of those." She's a former postal worker and a lifelong conservative. But the war has changed her. "It just frustrates me, how they won't admit they made a mistake."
Sgt. Frank Carey went over with the 3rd Infantry Division. At first, he was "excited. It was like 'Red Badge of Courage.' " That feeling lasted through the initial invasion. "There was just elation, that we'd been bombed and we were still in one piece. That it had gone pretty smoothly."
But then came the occupation. "I didn't know what the plan was and I was hoping someone two grades above us knew and wasn't telling me for some reason. Then it dawned on me: I don't think there is one. It was a very uneasy realization."
Carey talked to Iraqis and found it hard to maintain the sense that this was part of the axis of evil. "The Iraqis were just like us, dads who don't want their daughter to marry some jerk.
"As time went on I felt like I'd been caught in some big machine and that machine had a goal and no matter what happened, it would achieve that goal."
Who will he vote for?
"That's a good question," he says. Last time he went out of his way to vote for Bush, getting special permission to leave a training mission and go to the polls. "This time I'm on the fence. But more on the fence between someone like Nader and Kerry."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company