Cantu had signed a petition to Congress demanding that the U.S. withdraw from Iraq, and he gave interviews to the news shows "60 Minutes" and "Democracy Now!," as well as to IPS, detailing his opposition. Some observers say Cantu's promotion shows that the military is now so stressed by the ongoing war that it is finding it difficult to crack down on dissent within the ranks.
Few members of the Armed Forces have made their disgust for the war in Iraq more public than Cantu. The 30-year-old Los Angeles native began speaking out during his second tour in Iraq, launching an online forum for anti-war GIs at Soldiersvoices.net, signing petitions against the war and giving interviews to major U.S. media outlets while still stationed in Baghdad.
Now, as a staff sergeant, Cantu said he'll teach the Soldiers under him to follow the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war.
"There's a lot of Soldiers out there who wouldn't recognize an unlawful order if it bit them on the behind," he said. "So I'm going to make sure the nine guys under me are very aware of the laws of armed conflict. I just want to make sure that they keep their ethics and moral standards and keep out of trouble should anything happen."
Cantu added that he hopes the Soldiers under his command will behave differently than his unit did during his first tour in Iraq.
"We had a policy of 'making a statement,'" he said. "If a bomb went off on our convoy, all of the guns would go off and we'd pretty much just pass punishment on the area we were in: windows, cars on the side of the road, farm animals, sheep. It was a revenge thing."
Most service members who speak out are not given the same treatment that Ronn Cantu is enjoying. Like Cantu, Former Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden signed the Appeal for Redress, an online petition to Congress from active-duty service members demanding an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
After co-founding the appeal, Madden began holding workshops about the politics of the war on his base at Quantico, Va., bringing down the wrath of his chain of command.
"Basically, they just gave me lousy jobs and told all my peers they were not allowed to talk to Sergeant Madden," he said. "It was a pretty lonely time."
"All the peers that I had met and become acquainted with were basically shut off and if any of them were to talk with me in the barracks or off duty, they were very nervous about it," he added.
Many observers believe the Army is unable to effectively punish Soldiers such as Cantu and Madden because it's close to its breaking point. Last month, top Army officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is under serious strain and must reduce the length of combat tours as soon as possible.
Gen. George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, said, "The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance."read more at Military.com