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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008

Rage Against the Machine

Las Cruces Army Ranger Jose Trevizo came home from Iraq and Afghanistan determined not to be just another brick in the wall.

By Jeff Berg

A pleasant, well-read and articulate young man, Jose Trevizo has lived almost all of his life in Las Cruces. Trevizo graduated from Onate High School, but, like many young people, had no idea what he wanted to do next.

Army Ranger Jose Trevizo.

"I was stalled in life," Trevizo says. "I attended WNMU for a semester. I had gone there to play football, but I found I wasn't ready for college. So, I went to work, but none of the jobs I had satisfied me."

While in Silver City, Trevizo made a choice that is also not untypical for many young people who are pondering their future: He enlisted in the US Army.

Trevizo was not feeling the spark of faux patriotism that arose following the incidents of Sept 11, 2001; rather he was looking at how the benefits of military service could serve him after his three-year enlistment ended. His parents were not totally happy about his choice, but were and remain supportive, nonetheless.

Not for a moment did Trevizo suspect that his tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq would change his life, his politics, his emotions and his personality. The time spent away from the safety of family and friends in Las Cruces transformed Trevizo from a casual political observer to an activist with a Web site entitled "Free Radical," on which he advocates "peaceful revolution."

Jose Trevizo entered basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2003. He says it didn't take long for him to realize his mistake: Military life was not for him. Although he never made a serious attempt to leave, it was always on his mind during his three years of service.

"After about three weeks, I started thinking, 'What the f — - am I doing here?' I was in basic training for the infantry. I learned that all this was brainwashing. You come out of it stupider than when you went in. I felt like a slave."

He compares the feeling to the main character of a 1979 rock-opera concept album, "The Wall" by Pink Floyd, who feels isolated from society. The military's effort to turn individuals into "bricks" in a wall was not something he was prepared for.

But he persevered and made friends with a number of other young men in his unit. "My drill sergeant in boot camp was okay," he adds.

Trevizo decided, however, that being an infantry "grunt" was not for him. He signed up for additional training to become a member of the Army Rangers, a more elite group than the regular infantry. Unfortunately, his Ranger Introduction Program began right after the two-week "exodus" holiday break, when many soldiers find it hard to readjust to military life.

"This is the time when a lot of guys go AWOL, or get married or just go crazy — after 'exodus,'" he says. "I felt like I was going to die."

But Trevizo soldiered on, along with 15 other young men from his basic training platoon, and ended up in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, one of two US Army Ranger units. He wound up in the same company that NFL player Pat Tillman had joined after eschewing a multi-million dollar football contract. Trevizo recalls how he and his fellow Rangers were told, "Don't talk about it," if anyone asked about Tillman's death in Afghanistan.

Initially, officials blamed Tillman's death on enemy fire, using the NFL player's sacrifice to rouse support and patriotism for a floundering conflict. But an investigation revealed that Tillman, who had become a critic of the Iraq invasion, died from "friendly fire." An autopsy of Tillman's body — found with three bullets in his head — said it appeared he'd been shot by a US Navy rifle from 10 yards away. Investigating doctors, whose names were blacked out on a report obtained by the Associated Press, suspected Tillman had been shot deliberately. Other news reports indicated that Tillman had scheduled a meeting with the peace activist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky, upon his return to the US.

Before his own duty in Afghanistan, Trevizo was sent to Fort Lewis, Wash., for Airborne School. "The drill sergeants there are all called 'black hats,' and they were all smart asses," Trevizo remembers.

The training was tough and intense, and many would-be Rangers "washed out." Trevizo recalls one trainee who had a Ranger "contract" — he'd been promised a chance to become a Ranger upon enlistment — who lasted only a week.

"It was a constant state of stress, even to the point of always having to say 'sergeant,' when you addressed the instructors, otherwise you got 'smoked' (disciplined). We were surrounded by straight-out professional soldiers. It was four weeks in hell — the hardest thing I have ever done or will do."

Part of Trevizo's training included a four-day intensive ordeal that took candidates out in the field with their equipment, a compass and a map to give them a taste of what might lie ahead if they were sent overseas to a combat zone. "It was a dark, scary moment. . . . A lot of good soldiers found out that not all could be Rangers. You can die while training. It felt like I was already in the war."

But Trevizo never gave up, and passed the last rigid tests required for all Rangers. "We were bookin' with a full pack," he says, recalling the required march and the other physical demands of the course. Each soldier must also pass written and medical tests.

The first time the candidates take the graduation tests, they do so as a group. Trevizo says only 15 in his class finished "in formation," and that he was not one of them. Each soldier is given a second chance to succeed by himself, and Trevizo was able to finish that time. He was one of only abour 60 in his class to graduate.

"After you graduate, then you start to get a little bit of respect. We were allowed to let our hair grow a little longer," he says. Rangers are also given a black beret to wear as part of their uniform.

Trevizo relates more stories about his training and the people he encountered, and one has to wonder where he mustered the discipline and courage to deal with it all. It becomes obvious as he talks that these experiences began to remold his psyche. Of course, that's part of the purpose of military training. But Trevizo kept from becoming just another brick in the "wall" — while also keeping his newly formed opinions of the military and the government to himself.

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