Stephen Eagle Funk, 20, a marine reserve who was due to be sent for combat duty, is currently on "unauthorised absence" from his unit. He faces a possible court martial and time in military prison for his action.
"I know I have to be punished for going UA," Mr Funk told the Guardian in an interview before surrendering to authorities, "but I would rather take my punishment now than live with what I would have to do [in Iraq] for the rest of my life. I would be going in knowing that it was wrong and that would be hypocritical."
Mr Funk, who is originally from Seattle and is half Filipino, was approached by a recruiting officer last year. At the time, he said, he was depressed after dropping out of a biology course at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was working part-time for a vet and in a pet shop.
His family and friends were surprised by his decision, he said, because they had known him to have liberal political views and not to have been interested in the military.
"I wanted to belong and I wanted another direction in my life, and this seemed to offer it," said Mr Funk. "They told me I would be able to go back to school [university]." Recruits have their college fees paid once they complete their service.
"The ads make the armed forces look so cool - 'Call this number and we'll send you a free pair of boxer shorts' - and a lot of kids don't realise what's involved," he said. Although he graduated from the famously tough marine boot camp in San Diego and excelled as a rifleman during the 12-week induction period, Mr Funk said he had started to have doubts about military service during his training.
"Every day in combat training you had to yell out 'Kill! Kill!' and we would get into trouble if you didn't shout it out, so often I would just mouth it so I didn't get into trouble." The recruits were also encouraged to hurt each other during hand-to- hand combat training. "I couldn't do that so they would pair me up with someone who was very violent or aggressive."
Mr Funk said many recruits were envious of those who were being sent to the Gulf. "They would say things like, 'Kill a raghead for me - I'm so jealous.'"
Fighting not to fight