July 2, 2010

Double duty: Soldier, activist

Chris Rushlau protested the Iraq war, but served and was wounded. Two from Maine died that day - five others, like Sgt. Rushlau, were wounded in the attack.

By KEVIN WACK Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Chris Rushlau, of Portland, holds up newspaper pages as he discusses his conflicting emotions about serving in Iraq as a sergeant with the Maine Army National Guard, 133rd Engineer Battalion.

Earlier this year, Rushlau brought up the legal case of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused orders to go to Iraq, arguing that the war is illegal, and was subsequently court-martialed.

While not in complete agreement with Watada's actions, Rushlau expressed admiration for his willingness to make a principled stand against the war. Rushlau never suggested that he agonized over whether to take a similar position.

''I never got the sense that he hesitated about going, '' said Dan Hunter, a friend from the State Street Congregational Church in Portland. ''He didn't agree with the cause, but he went anyway, because that's what he was supposed to do.

''There was always this inconsistency between my sense of his world view and his joining the military, '' Hunter said. ''That's one of the big paradoxes about Chris.''

There were practical reasons for Rushlau to stay in the National Guard. He does not have a full-time job, and he said that he earned about $70,000 during his year overseas.

There might have also been social and emotional considerations.

Rushlau is single, and he lives alone in a small apartment in Parkside. Guard duty provides opportunities to socialize. It also provides some structure in Rushlau's life.

But he remains divided about his role in the U.S. armed forces.

At one point, he recounted an encounter with a fellow guardsman in which the two citizen-soldiers exchanged smirks.

He interpreted the colleague's expression to mean, ''How's your quest to save the Army and the Constitution going?''

''Oh, fine, '' was Rushlau's unspoken response.

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