November 13, 2006
1) Tell me about yourself. Who you are, when you moved to the Hawaii, when you joined the army, why you left Iraq, what rank you were (sgt. I believe it was?).
I joined the Army in February of 2000, after struggling with the problem of how to pay for college in Hawaii on my own. I volunteered for airborne training and requested assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg, NC. After two years or so with the All-American Division, I reenlisted for an assignment to Hawaii to surf the North Shore and more importantly, to complete a “Green to Gold” application to go to school and become a commissioned officer. A week after I arrived in Hawaii (Mid-January 2003), I got word that my old unit in the 82nd had been mobilized to deploy in support of Operation Iraq Freedom’s 1st rotation. Just as I was expecting to receive my response from Cadet Command in Virginia regarding my Green to Gold request, about May 2003, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry (my unit in Hawaii at the time) received deployment orders to Iraq (initially Afghanistan). Instead of pushing for my commission, I let it go in favor of deploying with my unit. I deployed with them in January of 2004 and returned to O’ahu in February of 2005. In a more direct response to your question, I never left Iraq; our tour was extended 2 or 3 months to provide additional manpower during the January 2005 elections. After that, my unit’s tour ended and we returned to Hawaii. During the entire 14 month deployment, I was actually a Specialist (E-4), I did not get promoted to Sergeant (E-5) until April of 2005 and remained at that rank until my separation this year.
2) How did you get involved with the Christian Peacemaker Teams?
Being in Iraq taught me a lot about myself. Some things startled me while other revelations made me proud of who I was as a person. Coming home from Iraq, I began devoting more and more of myself to taking my spirituality seriously. I had been a Christian for some time, and I began to realize that, as a Christian, it didn’t matter what I thought of myself, but only how I stood before God. Was I fulfilling His purpose for my life? What is His purpose for me? With serious contemplation and prayer, I started to question whether my developing religious convictions would allow me to continue in my role as a Forward Observer for the artillery, a specialty that controls and directs large assets onto targets determined by an Infantry commander.
Through a chance reconnection in late March 2006 with another soldier who I had known in Iraq, I learned about Conscientious Objection (CO) status. Army Regulation AR 600-43 governs the process that one must follow in order to request either noncombatant status or discharge from the Army. For awhile I felt pulled to request discharge, thinking I could not be a part of an institution whose purpose effectively required the use of deadly force, and which necessitates ‘collateral damage.’ Then in April, on a bus headed to the Honolulu airport for a training event, I had an epiphany. Instead of seeking a discharge, I felt called to stay in my unit; which was prepping to deploy to Iraq again in August of this year. I would apply for noncombatant service as a Conscientious Objector, I would seek to lay down my weapon but remain in an infantry unit. By ‘drawing the sword;’ I am tempted to end my neighbor’s life instead of redeem it, to harm him instead of care for him. Additionally, I would not be trusting in God for my safety, but in a coldly inanimate mechanism devoid of the warmth of the Father’s embrace which I am called to embody.
Throughout my time discerning all this, I had been in touch with many others who felt similarly across the country. The notoriety in my case stemmed from my disinterest in requesting discharge. Many other COs that I have met are taken aback when I tell them about my choice and the reasoning behind it. In all my research, I could not find another case of someone requesting to specifically remain a combatant but seek to lay down his weapon. In fact, that played a part in how I was separated from my unit. To answer your question more directly, it was through these correspondences with others that I learned about Christian Peacemaker Teams. I was attracted to their eagerness to practically seek out those places that do not know peace and simply be supportive to the indigenous people in those places. Originally, I was hoping to go with them to Iraq, however, after Tom Fox was killed during an October 2005 CPT delegation, CPT withdrew the long term delegates and have yet to return to Baghdad. Israel interested me because of the inter-faith possibilities, so I spoke with one of the directors about applying, and was nearly turned away because of my active duty status (how can an Army soldier effectively engage in active nonviolence?). When I explained my reasons for wishing to participate, I was welcomed into the November-December delegation.
3) What do you hope to achieve by going on this peace mission to Israel? The delegation will meet with peace and human rights workers to document the situation. What does the group hope to do with that information?
My reasons for going to Israel are twofold, but the over-arching theme is simply to learn. I seek to learn about the conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. While the issue is not strictly religiously (or merely politically) grounded, I do believe that there are religious undercurrents and motivations behind both parties’ motivating factors. With the limited knowledge I currently have of the situation, I am led to disagree both with the Israeli government’s policy of settlement, destruction of Palestinian property, and the growing ‘security wall,’ but also with Hamas and Hezbollah’s policy of endorsing and training suicide bombers and terrorist tactics such as urban guerilla warfare. If I wish to be a part of the solution I must first understand the problem, which I feel transcends both Israeli and Palestinian policies and reaches to the human tendency to demonize those whom we do not understand. The tendency to fly, and even to fight, is based in fear, which the gospels tell me is not reflective of the indiscriminate love Jesus Christ demands of His followers. The fear which drives us to either run from or attack our neighbors (which includes our enemy neighbors), is a lack of trust in something/one we do not understand. That is why, to me, the most rewarding accomplishment I can hope to achieve in Israel is to educate myself, to seek to understand, to sympathize. What better way to learn than to experience first hand? I want to live with and love both Palestinians and Israelis so that I may come to a better understanding of what motivates them, to comprehend better that which I only have begun to comprehend. More so, by meeting face to face with members of both political entities, it disables my own tendency to demonize as well; I will be able to put a human face behind both groups, breaking down the emotional and spiritual degrees of separation upon which hatred and prejudice rely. I hope to never again see Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or Muslim, enemy or friend; I will only see fellow broken children of Abraham’s dysfunctional family; a family I want to see reconciled to each other so that we may glorify our one heavenly father and welcome others into the family tree.
When I return, I (and likely the entire delegation of ‘CPTers,’ in their respective communities) hope to raise awareness of what is going on over there. The conflict is only heating up and beginning to take a more aggressive attitude. The more the international community ignores it, the more we allow it to get worse. We must show the world at large that we do concern ourselves with caring for the least of those among us (within the global community), that we concern ourselves with more than that which surrounds us in our own little boxes; our own church, our own state, or our own country.
So in conclusion, the only thing I am truly capable of is to expand my own little box. It is my hope that I inspire others to do the same, but that would only be an unexpected reward of me living out my convictions unashamedly. I cannot convert anyone, or ‘evangelize;’ I am only able to provide others with the tools to convert themselves. I will be stepping out of my box to search for Jesus in his ‘most distressing disguises,’ as Dorothy Day put it. The more I allow that search to mold me, to shape me into a ‘lover’ of my neighbors, I believe I will be coming closer and closer to glimpsing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. As I slowly realize the gravity of that task and reflect on how to practice it, instead of simply praying it, I wonder if I am not already achieving that which I seek to accomplish. I am learning everyday how to trust in God by exposing myself to uncertainty without succumbing to fear (and eventually hatred), but to surrender to love.
4) Do you have family here in Hawaii? The timing of your trip is near Thanksgiving. Any reflections or thoughts on Thanksgiving and your mission, or you being away from your family?
I do not have family in Hawaii in the traditional sense, and yet I still have brothers and sisters in Hawaii. All of my immediate family lives in Orange County, California, in or near my hometown of Tustin. While that is where I am ‘from,’ I now see Hawaii as my adopted home, and I often refer to Waialua as my hometown. I cried out to God in Hawaii in April; a decades-long seed had finally sprouted, and I feel led to return eventually.
There is way too much to be thankful for, and I would steal immeasurably more time from you were I too commit it all to writing. Briefly, though, I am certain that simply the ability to attend this delegation is a miracle, so I am thankful at the very least that everything has come together so wonderfully. As for my family, they are very supportive and understand why I must do this. The timing is out of my hands and they are very sympathetic, in fact they are extremely supportive of me living out and giving everything to something I believe in to the core of my being. I suspect we will celebrate the holiday when I get home, possibly a combined Christmas/birthday/thanksgiving (I was born on Christmas day, 1981).
After I complete the trip to Israel, I suspect I will do a little awareness-raising and speaking with interested groups of people both in Hawaii and California after the new year. There are already a few groups who have asked me to speak with them or to explore the idea of waging peace. I hope that people interested in learning more with me, who might like to hear from or about me, can begin to learn more through your article and other media outlets that have shown interest in learning more about what is going on out there and back at home (both HI and CA). Feel free to include my contact information if you decide to print something about what I have written, I would love to hear what people think or to be able to share publicly about what has been happening in my life.
5) As I understand it, you may have left the armed forces. Why?
The short story robs you of fully appreciating what I see as a miraculous event, but I will keep it brief anyway. If you are interested in knowing more, or have time, feel free to call me, since it would take more time than I have to commit it to writing before I depart for Israel.
Basically, my term of service will expire this month after being extended a few months. After I put in my CO application, which requested noncombatant service, relations between me and my unit command became strained. A second soldier, who worked for me, requested CO status as well, but he sought discharge. Because of our professional relationship, I was accused of directing him to submit a packet, and things got pretty tense as I defended myself against that and other remarks made about the legitimacy of my intentions. In the end, I had been accused of trying to get out of a deployment, conducting myself inappropriately as a leader, forcing my opinions on a soldier, and most threateningly, of aiding the enemies of America by refusing to carry a weapon and creating a strain upon my unit. Even more interestingly, after conducting interviews with a chaplain and a psychiatrist (required in the CO application process), I was labeled medically non-deployable. The psychiatrist saw my internal struggle to reconcile both my professional obligations and my spiritual convictions and diagnosed me with a mental disorder concerning my failure to merge the two. He recommended pretty clearly that I be separated from the service and advised my commander that I was not considered deployable in his professional opinion, since my refusal to carry a weapon in combat might result in personal injury or death. I was crazy for Jesus, you could say.
Shortly after I supplied my commander with a copy of his diagnosis and recommendation, I was assigned to rear-detachment in late July.
Before the unit received deployment orders, my separation date (ETS, or ‘effective termination of service’ date) was in August of this year. Since those orders were published, my new ETS date was in October of next year, so that we could all deploy together (if you’re familiar with the stop-loss policy, this is what occurred). After I was reassigned to rear-detachment, the stop-loss policy somehow did not apply to the new unit. My date of separation was corrected in late august and I was automatically given 90 days from the day the error was corrected to transition out of the Army. I began my terminal leave on October 19th of this year, and I will officially separate on the 21st of November (the second reason I asked to delay printing anything until that date was to avoid being viewed as a dissenter by others within the Armed Forces community).