By Mark Cowan, Jr.
“You sent me over somewhere where I could die based on lies… and I want my voice to be heard now.”
When you find yourself thinking that it’s too late to turn your life around and go down a different path, remember the story of Brandon Toy.
Brandon Toy, 34, resides in Rochester Hills, MI and has come into the light recently online for a decision he made.
Toy was a member of the Michigan Army National Guard in the Battery B, 1–182 Field Artillery unit in Bay City for 6 years, where he worked with Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and was a team leader and vehicle commander. He was deployed for 16 months and spent all of 2005 as a Military Police Officer on the east side of Baghdad in the New Baghdad and Sadr City areas during the Iraq War. After his enlistment was done, he got a job as an Engineering Project Manager at General Dynamics Land Systems, a defense contractor based in Sterling Hts., where he worked on the Stryker combat vehicle project.
About two weeks ago, Brandon Toy quit his job- very publicly, in fact. Toy sent his resignation letter to Common Dreams, a progressive online news site, and it was published the night he resigned. The resignation letter went viral.
“I read through all the comments… made me feel great about my decision,” Toy said.
Brandon came to his decision to resign after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the narrative professed by the U.S. government and the mainstream media during his time in Iraq.
Toy’s transformation from “true believer” in the Iraq War to outspoken public critic came over the space of a few years.
“I think that within the first couple months of arriving in Baghdad, most of the soldiers that I was with became disillusioned. It turned from a mission of liberating Iraq, and winning the hearts and minds was the big thing back then, to ‘hey, let’s just all get home alive.’ You remember everything they told us- about WMDs and we gotta bring democracy to Iraq and all that stuff… that stuff all went out the window,” Toy said.
Toy recalls one night, three years ago, when he told his wife and cousins about an incident in which he scared an Iraqi family by pointing his rifle at them during a traffic stop in Iraq. Toy had laughed about the scared reaction of the family. His family didn’t think the story was funny and were instead disturbed by it.
Toy had shared the story with fellow soldiers in the past and they had reacted by laughing and sharing similar experiences. Toy began to think about the difference in his reaction to the situation and his family’s reaction. During this time period, Toy began seeking out news from independent media sources.
During this time, Toy watched the Collateral Murder video for the first time, and recognized some of his own attitudes in the indifferent tone of the pilots in the video. The situation made Toy recall his previous laughter in reaction to his actions during the aforementioned Iraqi traffic stop.
He mentions the March 2013 exposé story that BBC Arabic and the Guardian did on Colonel James Steele as a turning point in how he felt about his relationship to the war effort and the intentions of the U.S. military and our government. Col. Steele was a retired special forces veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America, who was nominated by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to set up a counterinsurgency force in Iraq.
“This gentleman, Colonel Steele, went over there and started training Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard army personnel, as a counterinsurgency force and what they turned into was sectarian death squads,” recalls Toy. “During that time, according to the Guardian and BBC Arabic, about 3000 civilians were being killed a month. It was a lot of death, a lot of murder, they were also torturing- basically U.S. military sanctioned torture.”
“I realized when that story came out… that I had unwittingly been aiding this whole effort to train these counterinsurgency troops. I was a military policeman in Baghdad- we were responsible for going out the police stations and training, transporting, and equipping Iraqi policemen and Iraqi Army personnel,” Toy said.
“We had an inkling that they were infiltrated by Shia militias, but I never knew that it had gotten to the scale where so many people were being killed and tortured and that the people that I was training were the ones doing it, essentially.”
After the story came out, Toy didn’t sleep for several nights. He wanted to leave his job at GDLS immediately and spent that weekend drafting his resignation letter. His worried wife convinced him to seek other employment before quitting. Toy went on working for GDLS for a few months; feeling increasingly conflicted about his work.
In an interview on Russia Today with Abby Martin, Toy said, “It came to be that there wasn’t a line between sitting at that keyboard and being overseas with a rifle in my hands. I knew that I was aiding the bigger picture and that’s what really bothered me.”
On July 4th, Toy went to a movie theater and watched Jeremy Scahill’s documentary Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield and was moved to tears by the pain of the victims of U.S. drone strikes and their families.
On July 8th, the Guardian released the second part of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s interview with whistleblower Edward Snowden. Toy remembers feeling hope and being inspired after Snowden expressed having had similar experiences to him and expressing similar feelings to the ones he was feeling.
One night, soon after, Toy’s situation became too much of a disparity in his conscience. He decided to resign in protest and make his voice heard. He brought his wife flowers that night and told her of his intentions. She was again reluctant, but could tell his decision had been made. They made an assessment of their financial situation and discussed their possible future actions and consequences they may face.
Brandon remembers driving up and down Mound Road in front of the GDLS building the next morning. He went into the building that morning and went right to his desk. He downloaded his resignation letter, which he had sent to himself in an email entitled “Birthday Party”. Toy then copied his resignation into emails to the entire company, his corporate chain-of-command, some friends, and the journalists he respected most.
Toy laid down his badge, property slip, and company phone on a desk in an empty conference room. He reread the emails one last time, hit send, and left the building.
“People have reached out to me,” says Toy. I’ve talked to a couple people from GD and they were supportive. One person in particular said… what I said made him rethink his involvement. I hope there’s more of that. That was kind of the point in me doing it so publicly. I didn’t want to just slink away into the shadows. I wanted to say ‘Hey, I’ve been supporting this for 10 years; I’ve put all my time and energy into this for 10 years. You sent me over somewhere where I could die based on lies… and I want my voice to be heard now. I want to make a statement and for it to be picked up and accepted by so many people is fantastic.”
Brandon understandably seems distraught about his experiences but he retains a positive outlook. “I’ve got to imagine I’m on some blacklist somewhere… Put me on all the military blacklists, the defense contractors’ blacklists, you know? That’s great, that’s fine.”
Toy is currently looking for employment in a progressive entity or nonprofit, “some kind of institution where I can put my energies into doing something good,” he says. He spends a lot of time with his family and is writing about his story.
The following is the closing passage from Toy’s public resignation letter:
“I was only a foot soldier, and am now a low level clerk. However, I have always believed that if every foot soldier threw down his rifle war would end. I hereby throw mine down.”
When asked to comment about Toy’s decision, a representative from General Dynamics said, “We don’t speak publicly or comment on employees’ personal decisions.”
Toy’s former unit in the ANG could not be reached for comment.
Listen to the interview here: