Soldier who fled to Canada guts houses in New Orleans

A U.S. Army soldier who fled to Canada rather than return to Iraq spent Thanksgiving week gutting houses flooded more than a year ago by Hurricane Katrina.

“There are so many engineering units of the U.S. military _ they should be here and not Iraq,” Pvt. Kyle Snyder, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said Friday.

He was among two dozen volunteers from Iraq Veterans Against the War spending the week in New Orleans, gutting veterans’ and musicians’ houses flooded when Hurricane Katrina breached levees on Aug. 29, 2005.

Work here is a continuing project for the 300-member national group, which arranged for groups to spend two weeks each helping to gut houses from June through August, executive director Kelly Dougherty said.

Dougherty, who was in Iraq from March 2003 to February 2004 with a Colorado National Guard unit, said she thinks it’s therapeutic for veterans who have returned from Iraq to do good works in which they make visible changes for “a major city that looks in many places worse than Iraq.”

Her 220th Military Police Company, sent some units to New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina, she said. “Now they’re back in Iraq.”

Snyder, a former combat engineer, left the United States in April 2005 while on leave to avoid a second tour in Iraq. He said he worked as a welder and at a children’s health clinic in Canada.

Snyder has said he was put on patrol when sent to Iraq in 2004, which he said he was not trained to do, and that he began to turn against the war when he saw an innocent Iraqi man killed by American gunfire.

Equipment, help and general arrangements were provided by the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, a volunteer group created in the storm’s aftermath. The house being worked on Friday belonged to a Vietnam veteran, said Armand “Sheik” Richardson, president of the group.

“He was a first lieutenant and had some heavy combat experience,” Richardson said.

His group isn’t political, but he himself is against the Iraq war, said Richardson, who served in the Marines and Marine Reserves from 1965-69.

“I opposed the Vietnam War, and I’m opposing this one too, for the same reasons. Which is hard to believe but it’s the truth,” he said.

Richardson said the Wrecking Krewe can identify 110 houses it has gutted and helped rebuild. “Probably more than that. That’s the ones we can actually count. I started the day after the storm and pretty much haven’t stopped,” he said

Snyder said he’s getting help from Iraq Veterans Against the War and other groups. “I just travel,” he said.

Snyder turned himself in on Oct. 31, after his lawyer said he had reached a deal to have Snyder processed back into the Army at Fort Knox and be discharged without a court-martial. He went AWOL again, however, a day later. Attorney James Fennerty of Chicago said the Army wanted to send Snyder back to his original unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where commanders would determine his future.

“Legally, I’m AWOL again. My lawyer has tried to contact Fort Leonard Wood like 75 times _ it’s documented, 75 times _ and tried to get in touch with the military. They’ve avoided this entire subject,” Snyder said.

Mike Alley, a public affairs officer at Fort Leonard Wood, said Snyder never arrived at Fort Leonard Wood. He directed calls to the public affairs office at Fort Knox, where nobody answered the phone Friday.

Snyder said the military doesn’t chase down people who are absent without leave. “I’m not a rapist, not a murderer, not a child molester. I’m not doing anything negative,” Snyder said. “I’m doing what I feel I have to do as a human being.”