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Soldier’s pacifism earns his release

   
 


Deshawn Reed (left), with Kent Yoder of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, recently learned his petition to the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector was approved. Reed worked through the Military Counseling Network to prove his claim. For a history of conscientious objection in Canada during World War 2, visit the Mennonite Church Canada resource at www.alternativeservice.ca

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July 19, 2005
-by Reuben Miller, Military Counseling Network

Bammental, Germany — Since March 2003, the Military Counseling Network has worked with United States military personnel stationed in Germany who wish to leave the military or deal with their rights under military law. In March 2005, network representatives learned that a conscientious objector they counseled would be discharged from the U.S. Army – the second such objector to be released in two years.

Deshawn Reed received his discharge notification from the Headquarters of the Army in Washington DC. “Its such good news,” he said.

MCN counselors David Stutzman and Reuben Miller have worked with 15 conscientious objectors; in August 2004, MCN reported the discharge of Sergei Chaparin, a U.S. Army cook based in Germany. All the other objectors have received negative replies from the Army.

“We see a pattern here,” said Stutzman. “Soldiers [based] in Germany have significantly better chances of getting out. … In Iraq, nobody gets out on a CO claim.” Mennonite Church Canada Witness helps support the counseling ministry in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.

Objectors get a discharge if they can convince their command, a chaplain, an investigating officer and ultimately the Conscientious Objector Review Board at Headquarters of the Department of the Army of their sincerity. MCN workers have noted that soldiers in Iraq who see war every day and can speak about it from a personal experience likely will not get discharged under conscientious objection. Both Reed and Chaparin got their discharges, but never were in Iraq.

Applicants must write a conscientious objection claim outlining purported change in beliefs with regard to violence and war, the basis for discontinuing military service. MCN counselors assist objectors in the documentation and procedure according to Army Regulation 600-43.

If the Army denies a case, the options are either to start the process over again and file a new conscientious objection claim or to appeal the decision in federal court. Agustin Aguayo’s claim was denied last summer while he was in Iraq. His beliefs about war and the use of violence grew out of his experiences in basic training and Army life in general. His yearlong deployment to Iraq only reinforced his commitment to peaceful solutions and non-participation in war.

The notification of the Army’s denial of his CO claim was a low moment for him. He had worked so hard on the process and endured harassment from his command and his peers. Although getting out of the Army would have been a great relief to him, the Army’s decision did not take away his confidence and resolve. “I know what I believe,” he said, the day he informed Miller of the Army’s denial.

Aguayo is now appealing the Army’s decision to a federal court. The proceedings could cost as much as $10,000 according to experts at the Center on Conscience and War in Washington, D.C. Because the Aguyo family does not have the savings to cover the costs, they are raising money through the Military Counseling Network. MCN foresees a continued legal fund for conscientious objectors.

According to the Army Times magazine, between 2001 and 2004 the Army approved 91 conscientious objector discharges and denied 51. This number, however, does not include soldiers who turned in claims that were lost in military channels or soldiers who inquired about conscientious objection but were told that the status change was impossible. Some soldiers reported that chaplains and commanders provided false information or simply did not know the procedure. One current applicant in Germany told MCN counselors that his chaplain was very helpful and even recommended John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus as helpful reading.

MCN acts as an advocacy organization for U.S. soldiers in Europe and Iraq.

Stutzman, who represents Mennonite Mission Network, said, “For us, it is part of working out our peace position. We [Mennonites] are often so removed from the reality of military life and the reasons that people join up. I have learned a lot from military people. I just have a different perspective.”