Joshua Eric Casteel: 1979-2012
Joshua was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Rick and Kristi Casteel, and grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From an early age, Joshua enjoyed sports, music, drama, writing and eventually, academics — in particular philosophy and theology. Joshua enlisted in the US Army in high school to help prepare him for the US Military Academy at West Point, which he attended for a short time his freshman year. When he realized his desires and philosophies were changing, he left West Point to finish his college education at the University of Iowa.
In order to fulfill his military commitment Joshua re-enlisted, and after graduation, he was trained as an Arabic linguist and interrogator, serving at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Joshua acquired lung cancer as a result of living near and manning the open burn pits in Iraq. He had hoped to work towards the elimination of these pits, as well as bring aid to the Iraqi people, who are also suffering as a result. Joshua's cancer ultimately prevented him from carrying out this personal and important work.
Upon his return from Iraq, Joshua came to an important decision regarding his beliefs and values pertaining to his role in the military. He applied for and received a Conscientious Objector status in 2005 and was honorably discharged. At this point he forged a new path and began to participate in organizations and activities promoting non-violence, including Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Catholic Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi USA. Joshua was asked by Catholic Peace Fellowship to be part of a delegation invited to the Vatican to discuss issues of non-violence and Catholicism.
Joshua served on the Board of Directors of IVAW, lead a panel on Racism and Dehumanization at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, and in 2010, he testified at the Truth Commission on Conscience and War.
Joshua was invited to speak about peace and non-violence all over the world. In 2006, Joshua appeared on the stage of the Royal Court Theatre in London for Human Rights Watch's Cries From the Heart performing a monologue from his play Returns, which premiered at the University of Iowa in February 2007, and then at Columbia College in Chicago, Princeton and other venues nationally and internationally.
Some of Joshua's essays on war and Christian ethics have become part of course curricula at high schools and colleges across the country. His story is featured in the documentary films Soldiers of Conscience and Iraq for Sale. In 2008 Joshua published a book of letters he sent home while deployed entitled Letters from Abu Ghraib, excerpts of which were also published in Harper's Magazine. In 2009 he authored a booklet of Lenten reflections for Pax Christi USA. In 2010 he wrote "Call of Duty" an article for The Point magazine.
Joshua earned a dual M.F.A. in Playwriting and Non-Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa in 2008 and was studying literature and religion at the University of Chicago and working as an editor for the Lumen Christi Institute before he was diagnosed with cancer. In March of this year, Joshua was awarded the Catholic Peace Ministry's Bishop Dingman Peace Award, becoming the youngest person to receive this honor.
Joshua was a young man with purpose and a passion to help change the World for the better. And he did so because of his deep faith and dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to live out God's command to Love.