There has been a number of people who have expressed interest in hearing about the unique story surrounding my experiences over the last ten months or so. If you are reading this, you probably met me in my journey, however briefly, or heard about me through published articles or word-of-mouth. I have adopted the title of ‘coward’ in an effort to embrace the misplaced anger that some have thrown at me. I feel there is no greater satisfaction than to submit to the perceptions of others and prove their error through my willingness to live by my own Biblically-founded spiritual convictions unashamedly, an endeavor my accusers seem to be unwilling to embark upon.
The following is my attempt at bringing you the story from my perspective, which I beg you to remember is only one of many. I will make no attempt at abridging this account, since I find it difficult to filter my writing as it is. I go all the way up to the point where I found myself out of the Army, on October 19, 2006. From there, a Sojourners article lays out where my story picks up where this testimony leaves off. After this entry, I have included emails I sent to friends and family along the way, in chronological order. I can only give you my experiences through my lens; for more background visit these other sites, and feel free to email me at courageouscoward(at)gmail(dot)com, google my name, or search me on Facebook.
The curtains part…
I began considering joining the Army as a temporary necessity to pay for my college tuition. I had been accepted to three schools in Hawaii, but had no way to pay for any of them. The Army recruiter promised a way to do that, and I decided, after consulting my folks, that joining would be a good way to see the world outside Orange County, California. I penned my signature in a Los Angeles reception station in February, but would not actually ‘ship out’ until August. I must mention that this was before the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which occurred while I was in Basic Combat Training in Oklahoma. I had signed up for airborne training and an assignment at Fort Bragg, NC, the proud home of the 82nd Airborne Division, one of the US Army’s finest fighting units. While I was at Ft. Bragg, I quickly learned that the job I had enlisted for was responsible for much of the ballistic engagement on the battlefield. I was proud of the responsibility that the Army laid upon “Forward Observers” and the great sense of honor at being able to use a simple radio to command the larger caliber weapons that the infantry did not even see in front of them. There was a distinct pride and mysticism in being an “FO” in an infantry platoon; little was understood of us but much was expected. The list was short of those who were given real trust in the execution of their jobs. The infantry expected us to be weak, so we had to prove them wrong constantly. The artillery thought we were braggarts, so we learned to keep our humility about us always. There was, however, no whisper of us not being utterly in demand by either side. If the Artillery claimed to be King and Infantry Queen, we were certainly the Princes of Battle. And we knew it.
I will never forget the Airborne Operations and follow on training missions; each one was like reliving our Division’s proud past in the drop-zones of Germany and Italy. I accumulated over 20 jumps in less than 2 years, which is thought of as ‘chasing jumps’ in the 82nd; it meant someone loved to jump. I loved my job and I loved to jump, earning me a prized place as an over-achiever in my leaders’ eyes. I was urged to go to Ranger school, the Army’s premier combat leadership school, but refused, stating I would go when the 1SG (the top enlisted soldier in a company, the infantry ‘daddy.’) stopped insisting that I go to increase our credibility within the infantry companies. I felt that I would not appreciate the training if I were not there for myself, and had I gone when they asked, I knew I would feel like a suck up. So I fell out of favor with the wrong person and never saw promotion until it was forced on me. Tired of the unit leadership politics, and eyeing a possible commission through a college program, I reenlisted for Hawaii to orient myself to the college campuses and the ROTC program. And to surf. Surf had a lot to do with my decision.
This was in August 2002, after the 82nd was tapped nearly last of the Army’s ‘Big Ten’ active duty divisions to serve in Afghanistan. I had made a few attempts to transfer Brigades in order to deploy to the desert, but only those with a lot of rank were able to find positions in the deploying units. Sharing the slight frustration that we were not honored by being listed closer to the top of the deployment list, I signed up for Hawaii. I left NC on Dec. 20, on my way across the country to drive home to California for transition ‘leave (vacation/sick days).’ One week later I called a friend back in NC and found out they had been put on ‘lock down’ to mobilize to Kuwait to serve in OIF I. I cursed my luck and sucked in my pride; at least I was headed to Hawaii.
Upon my arrival to O’ahu on January 17th 2003, I immediately felt right at home. The representatives for the school program that I came to process into were very helpful, and I was assured I was a prime candidate. I mailed my final application in by the end of March, already familiarized with the island and my new coworkers. In early June, I received my response, a denial. A brush with the law from my youth, which was sealed and not even found by the federal background check at my initial enlistment, had kept me from acceptance. I was told that it would be easy to get a waiver, considering the counselor had mistakenly told me not to worry about it, and that I should complete one right away and resend my packet; I would have my acceptance within a week. Then my unit in Hawaii received their deployment orders to Afghanistan for 6 months. I reconsidered sending in the waiver… A week later, the orders morphed into a yearlong deployment to Iraq. I decided against the waiver so that I could deploy.
The 25th Infantry Division (Light) deployed to Iraq on January 20, 2004. I snapped a picture with the Division Commander, General Olsen, as I boarded the plane to Kuwait. On the plane, I read about how I was elected to Time Magazine’s coveted Man of the Year title. Yep, me. Well, I guess I have to share the title with every other American service member that year, if you want to be specific… My battalion (about 1,000 soldiers), 1-14 Infantry Regiment “Golden Dragons,” spent pretty much every month in a different location. To this day, I find it difficult to answer the question “where did you serve in Iraq?” As the Theatre Commander’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF), my battalion was called on repeatedly to travel across the country to quell uprisings and flare ups. We saw direct engagement in Tal Afar (twice), Mosul, the Syrian border, Kirkuk, Tuz Kharmatu, Tikrit, Samarrah, Najaf (twice), Diwaniya, Hauija, and more. For the Transfer of Authority from the US to the Interim Government on July 28th, we were in Najaf, waiting for Muqtada Al-Sadar’s Mahdi Militia to pick a fight. During the first free Iraqi elections in January of 2005, we were deployed to Mosul to enter the Old City, an area inaccessible to the Stryker Brigade stationed there (the narrow alleyways and sharp corners proved indefensible for a mechanized unit, so they sent the ‘soft skinned’ infantry: us).
During my time in Iraq, I refused to simply be an ignorant participant to my nation’s policies; I wanted to understand my place in the political chess game we all were a part of internationally. I took every chance I could to learn more about why we were there and what we could each do to see our purposes (winning the hearts and minds of both Iraqis and Americans) achieved. I read the 9/11 Commission Report and kept my ears open at chow halls for news from CNN and BBC. I began actually reading the articles in Time and Newsweek, and they became a familiar sight to those that visited me in my ‘hooch’ in Kirkuk (when we had the luxury of staying at our Brigade’s ‘home base.’) The more I read, the more I wanted to learn more; I offered to live with our interpreter, Qase, who had an engineering degree from Mosul University and spent the first few months during the war performing duties as a carpenter for US forces near his home town. When he became an interpreter, he had to travel with us for safety; had Anti-Coalition forces recognized him cooperating with Americans, his family would be threatened (If Qase was lucky, that is. If not, they would be killed without warning as retribution for his assistance to Americans).
My unit had it’s outstanding achievements like any other does; we traveled more than any other unit and saw more direct conflict in more areas of Iraq than any other unit so far, my platoon was the first soft-skinned infantry inside the city of Samarrah on October 1st to retake the city after it had been over powered by Enemy forces a few months prior (I earned an Army Commendation Medal for my efforts to defend a police station during ‘Operation Baton Rouge,’ as it was called), and we were trusted more than any other unit to secure the Old City of Mosul for elections, a high honor. For all our efforts throughout the year, we were nominated for a Presidential Unit Citation, the highest decoration awarded to a unit in combat. However, I am always quick to point out that my tour was no more or less horrific or traumatic (or heroic) than anyone else’s. There is no reason to feel more or less sorry for me than there is for anyone else. My request is that you do not see me as needing pity or as a victim, nor to allow me to use that for my own convenience; or to allow anyone else to do the same. Veterans of this war, and every other, deserve respect and dignity. And we deserve to be heard. I would say we earned it.
I returned from Iraq in February 2005, fourteen months after I left Hawaii. With everything I had experienced, I wanted to use what I had learned for a productive purpose. I just didn’t know how. So I let it slip into the back of my mind. On May 13th, I met a beautiful woman, and we began dating (I remember not only because she was a beautiful woman, but also because we met after my unit’s ball to celebrate our safe return from Iraq months earlier). Before long, I met her family, only to discover abruptly that her father did not like ‘military guys.’ Despite his confessed prejudice against men in uniform, he was very open and willing to learn how to love even those he did not necessarily approve of to date his daughter. His wife, as well, was alarmingly open and decidedly devoted to living out the love she and her husband had read about in the Bible. My alarm was replaced with a profound respect and awe for people who were committed to living the Bible instead of just reading it on Sundays, as I had done my entire life. The faith I was familiar with was only exercised once a week and twice a year (Christmas and Easter). The faith they showed me, however, was a way of and a purpose for life. I was transformed by what was commonly referred to by the two of them as unconditional love.
Love without condition; what an awesome idea. Love without bounds, without limits, without reason sometimes. I learned so much from this family, who loved me so completely, so wholly. I learned about giving and receiving freely; both material gifts and immaterial gifts, like love. My relationship with their daughter was only enriched by these lessons; I began to practice this unconditional, sacrificial love with her, learning more about myself than anything else. This was, I confess, my first true love. I had had girlfriends before, but this was the first where I felt fully devoted and committed to a relationship, even if it cost me my ego or pride.
God had also begun bringing other threads of love into my life that I could not ignore. My brother had come back into my life after years of estrangement and emotional distance. I remembered prayers I had uttered in high school to be able to just hang out with him. Other moments, I asked some higher power to miraculously create a relationship where there had been none. All of a sudden, the prayers were answered; my brother had decided to move out to Hawaii to get to know me more. Additionally, I had been (fairly miraculously) allowed to attend night school again, even though we had much training scheduled to prepare for another deployment. I had a New Testament History class scheduled, my first ‘religious’ class, inspired by my girlfriends parents’ lifestyle.
From the class, my curiosity was sparked for the historicity of the Biblical Narrative. For the first time, I saw the Bible as it should be viewed; as a valid historical document. With that in mind, I wanted to learn more about what it taught. I vividly remember my professor telling us in class to allow it to shape our beliefs, not to shape it around our pre-existing beliefs. With my background interest in psychology, I saw the danger in what he was warning us against; our pride in thinking we are infallible will skew the Bible if we do not read it with open eyes, eyes that do not skip over the ‘hard’ passages. Example; if I am an ultra-patriot who supports my nation without question, I will quickly be reassured by scripture such as Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13, and skip over such passages as 1 John 5:19, Revelation 18:3, Luke 4:5-7, and John 12:31 & 14:30. Besides, the first thing I learned when I decided to take my faith seriously was that every single human being is fallible and broken, including the Pope and the President. And me. Especially me. In fact, I realized me is the only person I have control over, nobody else. So that is what I focused on, changing me. Before I can hope to budge the plank in my eye, I must acknowledge that it exists and that it is skewing my entire perception of the world around me. So when, in a heated argument, my brother accused me of only bringing God into my life when it is convenient, I had to take the comment seriously, to consider it objectively and honestly.
I realized he was right.
Before this comment, my faith had been slowly condensing, compressing within me. The pressure slowly built, being fed by the various events in my life that led me to reconsider my entire life’s course. This single moment was the igniting spark that fueled the fire behind my decision to begin the journey I now find myself on. I vividly remember conversations I had with my girlfriend about how to move forward with this realization. Do I withdraw my spirituality in order to humor him, or do I boldly move it to the forefront of my very existence, threatening to ‘turn him away?’ Unfortunately, it was a decision I made wholly on my own, a decision that I felt ultimately had to be made by me alone. No matter the consequences or obstacles. Additionally, I had to consider my profession in light of the same realization; how did I continue as a Christian Soldier, heck, a Christian Forward Observer?! What did it mean to be both a follower of this Jesus and a follower of the tumultuous path of war? Would my allegiance to my country ever interfere with my allegiance to the God of the Universe?
To understate my own position, and to quote a great movie, I knew I had to ‘choose wisely.’ I felt there was, in fact, a Way of Death and a Way of Life, of Darkness and of Light. In March, I reconnected with a friend of mine from Iraq who had submitted a request for status as a Conscientious Objector, a term I had previously thought only applied to a Vietnam generation. I learned I was wrong, and that CO status was very applicable, even today. I read the Army Regulation he had directed me to, cover to cover. Uncertain if I would consider myself a CO, I began asking trusted friends and mentors their thoughts about war and peace in the Christian faith. I can’t remember too many who believed peace was a realistic option, but they did concede that it was in fact what Jesus taught. To justify the ‘moral necessity’ of a justified war, I was quoted Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and some Calvin. This was my introduction to theology. I didn’t like it much, mostly because the theologians I was being introduced to never quoted scripture or relied on Christ’s very explicit teachings on how to live The Life, the very Master they were claiming to follow. It didn’t make sense to me, so I went straight to the source.
The Gospels have more than enough implicit and explicit references to love and peace, so I was troubled by the comments made by others within my developing spiritual family. The more I read my NIV Study Bible (also served as my text book for the New Testament History class…), the more I fell in love with a message I was not hearing from the mouths of preachers and church members I had been looking to for guidance. I remember quite clearly beginning to fall in love with this ‘secret’ message of Christ and wanting to know more. As I returned to church again for the first time in five years, I was blessed with experiences that I cannot excuse as simple worship. I began being moved during worship. I was brought to tears and could not keep my voice from failing while singing the songs. I was keenly aware of a feeling of repentance; of sorrow for thinking I was better that I truly was, for believing that I didn’t need to be sorry. Right alongside that feeling was an overwhelming experience of loving acceptance and embrace, of profound joy, despite my very real understanding of my shortcomings. These experiences were what really convinced me that I had experienced God’s love reaching out to me as I returned from a self-imposed absence or exile. I wanted to feel this every day, every hour, to be close to God my entire life. However, we were scheduled to head to California to train up for our upcoming deployment. I was still troubled by comments being made and the reasons used to support them, so I decided to ask a very significant mentor about the proposition of participating in war.
Not long before we were to leave for California, I turned to my girlfriend’s father for some thoughts and opinions, since I had an enormous respect for his ideas and was constantly told “it’s about love, Lucky (my nickname).” I was sure I could count on a shared belief in the sanctity of life and love from this man. Instead, I was surprised when he agreed that Just War is necessary, and that America was serving God’s justice in the Middle East by bringing judgment to Muslim extremists. One comment I will never forget, and never understand, was “you know, Lucky, life is not so special. We are no more valuable than animals or plants; life is life (I am forced to paraphrase after many months).” I was being encouraged to be comfortable in taking life, because God would use my deeds whether I understood them or not. However, I was calmly reassured (which to this day I believe was sincere), “no matter what you decide, we will never call you a coward. You are faced with a difficult decision, one that I have never had to make.”
I was heartbroken and confused at his beliefs, and how they seemed such a departure from his promotion of unconditional love. The love that I was introduced to then was clearly conditional; I was to love ‘extremists’ only upon the condition that they share my beliefs and they do not make the mistake of taking other human life in their narrow minded attempt to reach paradise. It seemed like I could apply that label to the very people I was discussing Just War with; that by their own logic somebody deserves love only if they do not take Arab or Muslim lives in their own narrow minded attempt to gain God’s favor. I refused this idea of selective or conditional Love, even if it meant I would have to love those that had this view of a an unmerciful god. That was all I was certain of before I stepped on the bus headed to the airport for our flight to California.
Disclaimer; if you are uncomfortable with “Evangelical” language, or are unconvinced of the existence of a ‘higher power,’ you might find it hard to identify with the following couple of paragraphs. While I really hope you read on, it may be more to your liking to skip down a bit…
My mind was alert and racing as my comrades slept on the Blue Bird bus around me. I was listening to music, thinking to myself. God heard me thinking, believe it or not. A seed planted long ago was about to break the surface, a cry for help was about to be uttered. My strength was focused entirely on figuring out how to be a committed follower of Christ and remain in the Army. The lips of my soul were about to part; to ask, to inquire, to seek. My heart was troubled. He hears when His children are in need, and most importantly when they acknowledge that they are in need. Repentance had begun earlier, in church. I was a fresh slate, about to be molded, to be re-shaped, to be used.
In my searching mentality, I was given what I am certain is a vision. I was transported from the Blue Bird school bus to somewhere in the Middle East. Not everything was crystal clear, but I was certain of two things: one being that I was not carrying a weapon. The second was an absolute confidence somewhere within me. I knew even in my vision that I should be afraid walking around the Middle East without my trusty M-4, but I wasn’t. I was the farthest thing from afraid. “Whoa,” I told God, “you want me to do what!?” As it sunk in, I felt my entire being change. Time ceased to be measured in days, hours, minutes, or even seconds. In one millisecond, I was the old me, normal, everyday Logan. Doubting I was capable of such a feat, doubting His commission for me, His desire for my life. In that same millisecond, I could see all the slander, the hatred and contempt I would face. I knew the impossibility, the daunting task that lay before me. In that same millisecond, I could have just as easily rejected the entire ordeal. I could have said no. No, it is too much God. No, it is too hard God. No, I don’t want to God. I could have held onto my reputation, my worldly position, my status as a good FO. No, God; I have my life, I have things to do, I have things more important to me right now God. BUT. I chose wisely. I chose the narrow, difficult path of most resistance. I chose the path of peace. One millisecond separated me from doubt and faith, from death and life; one millisecond separated me from God. That one millisecond fell somewhere in the minute of 9:40am on the 20th of April, 2006. From that day forward my life had a purpose, my life had love. 1 John 4:16; God is Love.
Immediately, I realized that God is my purpose, to (try my best to) glorify Him in everything that I do. The more I am able to outwardly and actively love other human beings, the more people will identify me as God’s child and a follower of Jesus, reflecting the characteristics of Our shared Father; John 13:35. The greatest commandment Jesus has given His followers is simple; love God (Deuteronomy 6:5, the Jewish Sh’ma) and love others as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). To me, this means that every single action, thought, and deed MUST be tempered in love. Love must be my motivation in everything I do, even in justice. If I am indeed to ‘punish’ evil doers, I must do it with an interest to love them and to reflect God’s love for them; to give them the opportunity to repent (not to me, but to God) and be saved from evil. In killing them, I fail in this regard. Upon their death, I seal their fate and keep from them the opportunity to experience God’s grace.
I might punish my child as a parent, but I would do it in love, not vengeance, which pervades the justice in our world today. For example, I expect I will be a ‘spanker,’ but I could never spank my child to death, that would not be a lesson anyone could learn something from – they would be dead! I must have this concern and sympathy even for my ‘enemies;’ to show them love too, whether I like it or not. Even if it kills me. I saw this revelation as a manifestation of true heroism, a purely heroic feat undiluted by the expectations and manipulations of men, but inspired by an unquestioning faith in God above Man. I wondered under my breath, supposedly hidden from God, if I was able to perform such a significant feat.
At the moment I accepted this commission on my life, I ceased to think of death as a defeat, as something to fear, for there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). My life no longer belonged to me, in a way. I had given it to God, to do with as He pleased. Should He call my physical body to return to the dust it was created from, I trust that He will protect my true body, which is not necessarily restricted to physical form, even beyond death. This is faith; to place everything in someone else’s control, trusting in their sovereignty and superiority. This is what God asked of the Israelites and what He continues to ask of everyone who calls on His name. “Trust me,” He says. It is tough; there will be trials and persecution. Let me continue my story…
I glanced back at a friend with eyes still red and swollen from emotion. He knew what I had gone through because he had been with me from the beginning of my doubt in being a “Christian FO.” He worked directly for me, and I had involved him in many decisions I had made, since he was devoutly Catholic and had more institutionalized training than I had in ‘religious stuff.’ I wrote my thoughts on a few receipts I had in my pocket, to record my experience for my CO application. I knew instantly I would seek noncombatant service as opposed to discharge. I wanted the Army to be my mission field; to serve those who are serving and who needed a light shining on the merciful and loving message of the Bible more than most any other mission field. My friend nodded assuredly and made a note on another slip of paper. I could see the inspired look in his eyes from what he had read.
Once in California, I informed the Chaplain and a few superiors of my intent to submit a packet once the training event slowed down to a manageable pace. The chaplain confirmed my beliefs and agreed that it would be considerate to wait for an appropriate lull in the training to inform my commander and First Sergeant (1SG). When I informed my direct supervisor, he was surprisingly supportive and seemed to expect my decision, based on some reading I had been doing and some things I had brought up in conversation. He assured me he would not share the information until an appropriate time, so my decision could be discussed responsibly and considerately as professionals. We even began brainstorming what I could do in Iraq as a noncombatant. At this point, it seemed plausible to think that I could actually deploy on time without a weapon and remain in the unit.
As the end of the event approached, word leaked to the 1SG that I planned to request CO status, which usually meant the service member would request discharge. Against Army regulations guaranteeing me an ‘open door’ to speak to my commander, he refused me access to the commander until we returned to Hawaii. I knew this would reflect poorly on my application, since the time until our deployment was quickly approaching. I impressed on the 1SG on several occasions to allow me to breach the subject with the Captain (CPT) sooner rather than later, in order to begin the process and to allow both the 1SG and the CPT to read the applicable regulations and Department of Defense (DoD) Directives. Three times I was refused a meeting with my commander while we were still in California. Many soldiers, including the CPT, were scheduled to go on leave directly from CA, while others, including myself, would take leave after two weeks in Hawaii. This meant the soonest I would see him would be in early June, nearly a month after the end of the training event, which equated to two months after what referred to in the regulations as the ‘crystallization’ of my beliefs (the experience on the bus on April 20th).’ Determined to meet with him before such an extended time, I altered my leave in order to meet him once he returned from his leave, and before I went on mine.
This first meeting, on June 5th, he was cooperative and approachable. He advised me that it looked bad because I had just been denied a school drop (early release from active service to return to college). The administrative measure had been open and pending for nearly a year, which was in itself an egregious misappropriation of time and effort, predating our new orders to Iraq. When those orders came, the entire Brigade (above Battalion, about 7,000 soldiers) was “Stop/Lossed,” meaning that anyone who was scheduled to separate from the Army would not be allowed to do so, but would instead be forced to remain in active service until after the deployment was completed. In some cases, this meant over a year spent in active service beyond someone’s original separation date (or “ETS date”). I fell into this category, so it was not a far stretch to believe that I was trying to avoid this extension and the pending deployment by seeking CO status. However, I actually sought to return to Iraq, and was very clear on this. I desired another deployment since that is what I felt I saw in that vision on the bus. So the accusation that I was trying to get out of a deployment fell silent and moot; I was trying to stay in and deploy.
I took leave on June 6th unaware that my first trial loomed over the horizon. My girlfriend picked me up at the airport and we fell asleep watching a movie in her apartment. The next day we window shopped in LA and planned a dinner for that night to discuss how to develop our relationship further and explore our strengths and weaknesses in the relationship. That evening, we went to a nice restaurant and got through dinner before we decided to get into our relationship discussion. Before the conversation ended, she and I were no longer a couple. It seemed that abrupt. One of the main reasons she gave centered on our different directions in life. In the months preceding this conversation, I remember a few comments that reminded me that she was not in the same place spiritually as I was beginning to find myself. As much as I did not want to believe it, she was right; we had chosen different paths for our lives.
I was hurt (huge understatement, but it would be pages to describe the emotional rollercoaster that ensued). I felt my “religious beliefs” were being misinterpreted and other reasons she gave were difficult to interpret and seemed inconsiderate. However, the bottom line was that we were, indeed, moving in different directions in life. This truth did nothing to address the emotional heartache I felt, and I took solace in reading through the book of Hosea (three or four times…). I could now begin to understand how God truly loved Israel; swinging, as I would, from contempt and disgust to loneliness and despair. It was a reminder that man is in fact a reflection of his creator, that He too could experience frustration, anger, even longing. My greatest mistake was allowing those mood swings to affect my behavior; one night hanging out with our mutual friends, my ex-girlfriend appeared and I could not hold back my frustration, and I acted inappropriately out of shallow contempt.
Thus sprang my experience in forgiveness. Eventually, I accepted my responsibility in what I had done wrong in the entire relationship and began to understand how some of my actions could have been misconstrued, just as I likely misconstrued some of her actions. I tried swallow my pride and offered the olive leaf, after a few weeks, and knew that I could not expect her to respond; no matter how much I thought she should or how much I wanted her to. I am supposed to offer unconditional forgiveness, meaning that I could expect nothing in return. Reconciliation cannot be forced or it is not real reconciliation, not agape. This is true for ex-girlfriends and other folks we want to see as our ‘enemies’…
At work, I slowly made my way through the strict CO application process. I was asked to the office of one of my superiors to discuss my decision. I was skeptical and feared that this may be an attempt on the command’s part to figure out where I stood and try to find my weakness. The officer who summoned me fell over me in professional authority, but he was not my actual commander per se. I came to find that he had called me simply to discuss our conflicting interpretation of the Bible, he being a Christian as well. Regardless of my certainty that this was not a scheme to detect a weak link my intentions, I kept my answers guarded. We discussed all types of theology, but the most challenging question he posed dealt with the presence of warfare in the Old Testament. I found my answers lacking and not highly developed, and I left that conversation disappointed in my lack of considering this perspective. I realized that I could be wrong about this whole thing.
That evening I dove into my study Bible. I searched my concordance for four words; Love, Justice, Peace, and War. 6 hours after opening my Bible, I felt confident that I had moved in the right direction, though I knew this would not be the end of my study of the Old Testament. By my count (fingering each line and using multiplication – dang, I thought I’d never have to use that stuff again!);
– Love occurred 508 times in the entire Bible, 307 in the Old Testament (OT) and 210 in the New Testament (NT)
– Peace occurred 231 times total, 142 in the OT, 89 in the NT
– Justice occurs 134, 118 in the OT, 16 in the NT
– War occurs 137 times in the entire canonical Bible, 126 in the OT, 11 in the NT
However, numerous instances decry war, though no concordance I could find ever decried Peace, Love, or Justice. That night, I discovered an eternal truth that had been hidden from my eyes for decades of being exposed to the Bible. Let me reassure you; the BIBLE is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, it is the greatest romance novel ever written! And to add to its miraculous nature, it is a compilation by God edited by men in love with God. How freakin’ awesome is that? Sorry, I get carried away when I am reminded how much God loves me and you. I was so tired my whole life of this feeling that God is the Ultimate Accountant, ready to ‘review’ your very poor file once you checked out here on earth. Now I see that we are, and have always been, called to love Him more than we are to fear Him. In fact, the Hebrew word used for ‘fear’ actually has numerous meanings when translated into English, including respect, to stand in awe of, to be inspired by, etc.
Think about it, we had everything in Eden, but Man messes up and God no longer has His most precious creation, His children, to be near Him. He is frustratingly trying to show man how to walk in the way we once did, in the Garden, but we are slow learners. The Bible tracks God’s frustration and desperate attempts to show us how much we are loved, to be reconciled to Him, but we continue to trust in and follow things we can only touch, taste, smell, and see. Anyway, I digress. Infinitely wiser men than I will ever be have written exhaustive works on the topic, and if you email me, we can discuss some of the good ones. Back to my measly story…
I returned to this officer with my findings the next day and we continued our discourse. I told him of my findings and he made more arguments to show me how he understood the Bible, though some of his arguments included;
– Jesus has already died for all our sins, therefore we cannot lose our salvation no matter how much evil we do (think Calvinist theology; we cannot lose our ‘elective’ status)
– It is morally imperative that we free Iraqis (and Afghanis, etc.) from dictatorships, it is actually evil to do nothing in the face of evil (we agreed on this point, though the real question was what is it to do ‘nothing’)
– Romans 13:1 states we are to obey (actually it says to submit to) the governing authorities, and that includes orders to kill our nation’s enemies
– (continuing previous argument) I was straying from God’s path by ‘disobeying’ the US Army, which was an authority ordained by God
– Finally, I was accused of abandoning soldiers who needed someone to look over their shoulder as they are faced with that moral decision to kill a person and provide ‘support’
He became increasingly agitated, and began using baseless arguments (like the last one; he knew quite clearly that I was not trying to leave the unit at all, as we had discussed the feasibility of what position I might be able to fulfill without a weapon in Iraq). Obviously frustrated, he told me he could not believe what I was deciding to do, and threw the packet I had prepared for him on the ground, telling me to “get the Hell out of [his] office.” Curiously, he stormed off before I could excuse myself, and slammed the door upon his hurried departure.
Back at my unit, cynicism was high. Word had gotten out about my discussion with my professional superior. To add to the increasingly volatile situation, just before I had taken leave, the private who had worked for me for several months, the same who I had turned to in the bus on April 20th, had asked me solemnly to meet with the Chaplain. He confided in me (prior to going on leave, so rewind for just a moment) that he felt he could not kill another man and follow Christ either, and that he felt the catechism of the Catholic Church supported the same perspective. I encouraged him to make an informed decision in how he moved forward, even if he found himself in a morally difficult position. He decided to submit his own CO application and request discharge.
We found ourselves in an interesting dichotomy; he was a private, I was a Noncommissioned Officer, he was a Catholic, I valued Protestant theology more, he sought discharge, and I sought to return unarmed to Iraq. He finished his written request within a week and had me leave it with the commander after he spoke with the 1SG about his decision. Upon from his meeting with our 1SG, he informed me that he (the 1SG) had declared that I had “directed” the private to submit a CO packet. I fail to understand what I had to gain from another person requesting CO status. Nonetheless, from the get-go, I was seen as a brainwasher of this poor private, and command later reassigned him to another company and returned his packet (a violation of AR 600-43, Appendix C, line 4).
**You can view the Army Regulation by visiting this website;
http://www.usapa.army.mil/pdffiles/r600_43.pdf. Furthermore, I will skip the leave period I took June 23-29, which was separate from the leave I took from the 6th to the 18th, when my ex-girlfriend and I split up. This time period is covered pretty exhaustively in two updates I sent to friends and family immediately following the leave. I have included those updates on this blog, they should appear after this entry…
By early July, I met with an Army chaplain for the interview required by the regulation. I informed him of my understanding of what Jesus taught and why I felt there was war in the OT. I shared with him how I had come to my decision and why I felt prepared to die should I be killed on the battlefield without any means of ‘defending’ myself. I also shared with him a letter my ex-girlfriend had written to my commander about why she felt our relationship could not continue. I was relieved when he listened to what I had to say without arguing his perspective. The Chaplain, in a CO interview, is only required to comment on my sincerity (AR 600-43, Chapter 2-3, line a, and Appendix C, line 7), which he did. He also made it clear that he ‘respectfully disagreed’ (that is a great way to respond, don’t you think, with respect?) with my conclusions, though he deeply appreciated and admired my commitment to my religious convictions.
The next required interview was with a professional Psychiatrist to determine if I had the competency to grasp what lay before me and to comment on my mental health. Should a psychiatrist find any medical condition that prevented me from seeing this process to its completion, any mental diagnosis would supersede the CO packet (AR 600-43, Chapter2-3, line b and Appendix C line 8). As I explained my convictions and reasons supporting them, he listened attentively. Within the first 15 minutes he commented that I was one of the most mentally balanced people he had met with in years. However, he was clear that I was experiencing what amounted to a failure to reconcile my perceived professional obligation and my religious convictions. The only logical result of this maladjustment would be a situation (weaponless in a combat zone) that would very likely end in great personal injury, or even death. For that reason, he strongly recommended that I be separated from the Army and also classified me as medically non-deployable.
The rumors and whispered threats had become increasingly concerning by early July, and I was disappointed that my commander had not fulfilled his obligations toward processing my application (AR 600-43, Chapter 2-2, line e, and Appendix C, lines 5, 6, 8, and 9)I had not been treated with respect by other members of my unit. I was referred to a lawyer to safeguard my interests and ensure my situation would be treated appropriately. I also informed the Division Inspector General (like Internal Affairs) of the evolving situation and was instructed how to move forward within the bounds of the regulation that governed the CO process. I had written the Hawaii chapter of the ACLU and asked for assistance, since I knew they worked pro-bono. On July 10th, I scheduled a joint appointment with the ACLU’s representative and the lawyer I had been referred to, who was at that time (and still is) representing a high profile case having to do with another objector.
I had arranged the appointment to allow the private, who was still struggling with his own CO packet, some time with the lawyer as well. We met at the lawyer’s Honolulu office on a Friday during lunch, but the private got lost and had to jump in once he arrived. I told the lawyer that I was seeking to defer my deployment so that I could receive due process in my CO legal proceedings, which made it necessary that I not deploy until the process was complete. Prior to meeting with the lawyer, I began to suspect that my command was waiting out the process to force me to act on my convictions. Should it come down to the wire, I would not refuse to get on the plane to deploy, but I would certainly refuse to draw my weapon. While they might not charge me with missing movement, I would quickly be charged with failure to obey a lawful order.
After discussing the facts and providing him with the pertinent documentation, he made a call to the Division legal representative. During the phone call, my name and unit were mentioned and he asked that a copy of my packet be forwarded to his office. He was clear that in cases similar to mine, where Federal Injunctions are used to defer deployments of soldiers pending mobilization (*search “Corey D. Martin” and the New York chapter of the ACLU*) had met favorable decisions.
Monday morning, as I pulled into a parking spot outside my unit, I was hailed down and rushed into the 1SG’s office. The first thing he told me went something like this;
“Well SGT Laituri, you got what you wished for. You are being reassigned to rear detachment”
This meant I would not deploy with my unit on schedule, if I was to even deploy with them at all. That day, I was processed out of the company and quickly ushered to my new unit. This clearly violated the regulations (AR 600-43, Appendix C, line 4), and I was told they were reassigning me to abide by the psychiatrist’s recommendation, and that I was “another unit’s problem now.” Late in the day, I was told that the captain (company commander) wished to see me. Weeks before, I had asked to see him after I had heard other non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers making unprofessional and inappropriate remarks to subordinates, among other grievances. Unfortunately, the request was never honored, until that day. I will remember that meeting for a long time.
The commander asked me what I wanted to see him about and I replied that the complaints had been taken care of and were not relevant. If I remember correctly, I think I reminded him that I was told that he had asked to see me. Once the elephant was out of the closet, he recited to me several remarks that seemed prepared and directly accusatory. Some of his accusations included lying to my psychiatrist about being a conscientious objector, lying to the Inspector General about the circumstances surrounding the CO process, behaving irresponsibly as a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO), and finally, that my actions benefited the ‘enemies of America.’ Additionally, he told me I was being reassigned because he could not trust me and that I did not deserve to go to Iraq with the unit. He was certain that I was trying to get out of a deployment and that I did not deserve to be an NCO. I was surprised with the circumstances under which he brought this to my attention, and was confused about why he chose this time to relay his thoughts to me. However, after he told me to “never step foot” on his company area again, he excused me and that was the last I saw of pretty much anyone in my unit.
As a result of many different contributing factors, the private who had submitted his own packet was reassigned to the headquarters company (HHC), which was irrefutably in violation of the Army Regulation governing conscientious objection (AR 600-43, Appendix C, line 4). Later, I was given a derogatory NCO Evaluation Report (NCOER), only months after an extremely laudatory one, claiming that I had “forced [my] opinion on other soldiers,” meaning the private, and that I was no longer a satisfactory leader. Without going into the confusing mess of the Regulation concerning submitting NCO-ERs, their comments were basically unusable since they were unsubstantiated and extremely subjective. In order to appeal the NCOER, I needed witnesses to refute their claims. The most obvious witness was the very private they were accusing me of forcing my opinions upon. When I went to speak to him, he informed me that he was given an order to not contact me or speak to me in any way. I told him I felt the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ, basically the legal system within the Armed Forces) would not support the legality of an order that provided no justification and also directly obstructed the right to appeal a derogatory NCOER. I knew I was endangering his standing with his new unit, so I left the decision to contact me with him.
The next day, I was brought to my new commander’s office by another captain who was my professional supervisor. Words were surprisingly few; even though he was one of the men I went to while we were still in California in training and had confided in him about my concerns regarding serving with a weapon. Before he took me into the commander’s office, he told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to contact the private from that moment on, for any reason. If I remember correctly, and I may not, I told him about my intended appeal and that the legality of the order had come into question when I brought it before Division Legal after I finished speaking with the private. He did not respond, leaving me outside the office as he went in to speak with the commander. From outside, I heard bits and pieces, among which was the following;
Commander: “Do you have his social [security number]?”
Supervisor: “Yeah, here it is, do you have it written up yet?”
C: “Not yet.”
S: “Do you want me to bring him in here?”
C: “I don’t want to see that motherf***er. Keep him outside”
I never saw any written order condemning me from contacting anyone, so I am not sure what came of the process. The officer emerged from the commander’s office and reminded me not to speak to the private and excused me.
Within a week or so of that incident, the unit began deploying to Kuwait to certify and train up to enter Iraq. I was on 24 hour duty at a desk overlooking our parade field the day the Commanding General gave his speech to the unit before they boarded buses headed to the airport, to begin their 28 hour or so journey to Kuwait. I watched the unit say their goodbyes and step slowly and deliberately onto the buses for their one year tour in Iraq. Still certain I was supposed to be with them headed to Iraq, I was largely upset about how the circumstances had evolved and wished I could be stepping onto the buses myself. God, however, had other plans for me.
Every attempt I made to figure out what my future held was answered ambiguously. I asked numerously about whether I would be “chaptered out (involuntarily separated due to the medical diagnosis)” of the Army of forced to remain in the unit until the deployed soldiers returned from Iraq. My original separation date was in August of the same year, and I was only weeks away from that date as I asked these questions. I was anonymously told later that the command intended to keep me in garrison and enforce the Stop/Loss policy, in subtle retribution for my efforts to ‘get out of a deployment.’ I settled into this reality and began to seek ways to fulfill the commission God had given me, remembering Luke 9:62 and Christ’s reminder that nobody who looks back after placing their hands to the plow was worthy of the Kingdom.
I decided to apply to a delegation of Christian Peacemaker Teams to Iraq, believing I could take a two week leave period and slip quietly out of the country to be an incognito missionary. To my disappointment, the organization no longer had teams in Iraq, after some CPTers had been kidnapped and one, Tom Fox, had been killed as a result of that. At the time of my consideration, Hezbollah had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and had triggered a massive response from Israel in the form of bombing and offensive operations into Southern Lebanon, so I applied to Israel as a second choice. I felt magnetically drawn to areas of direct armed conflict, as I had been exposed to it firsthand for 14 months, and was confident in my ability to stand firm in the face of perilous situations; I wanted to go to the areas people were expected to fear and shy away from, to aggressively wage peace and advance God’s Kingdom by wielding spiritual weapons above temporal weapons.
My application was met with confusion, but after a brief explanation of why I felt called to involve myself in nonviolent action even while in such a seemingly violent profession, my application was received and I was reserved a slot for a November delegation. I returned to my unit to submit a request to take leave outside the country, which needs special approval in certain circumstances. As I enquired about the process I would need to complete, I was asked where I wanted to go. When I told them where and why, I was effectively told to forget about it.
Troubled that I could not find a way to serve in the way I felt undeniably called, I began to wonder if I could, in fact, consider the military a viable mission field. I did not, however, withdraw my application from Christian Peacemaker Teams. Consulting a new chaplain, I wondered if changing my CO application, which was technically still pending (though realistically, it had been lost in the shuffle), to request discharge. My new unit was evidently not pursuing a medical separation, though I was assured the paperwork had begun. The choices seemed very clear, I could either be medically discharged on the basis that the psychiatrist cited I was not fit to remain in service, or I could change my application. By keeping me in garrison at Schofield past my initial separation, my command was willfully withholding a legal proceeding from it’s completion by not processing my CO application, and was also not abiding by the regulations regarding soldiers with ‘mental disorders’ who were recommended for discharge (DoD Directive 6490.1, Chapter D-8a) by qualified medical professionals.
It was late August as I was considering these possibilities. Near payday, I found on my pay stub some information that caught my eye. Every service members Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) lists information about their separation information and accrued vacation (leave) days. On my end of month LES for August, I found my separation date was not listed as October of 2007, as it had for months before, after being adjusted to reflect the application of the Stop/Loss policy. For a reason I could not understand, my new separation date was listed as November of that year, 2006. Curiously, the date fell within days of my projected Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation into Israel/Palestine! Initially, I was not surprised by the error that certainly occurred in changing the date, and tried to figure out where the mistake was made (I didn’t want to stop getting paid come November…). Strangely enough, the more agencies I asked, the more I was told that there was no mistake. Every personnel section or administrative agency I went to told me to begin preparing for civilian life!
As a result of another bureaucratic issue, I was also ‘forced’ to take leave before the end of the Army’s fiscal year in October, which meant I had only a few weeks of work left before this date approached. To be safe, and at the advice of a trusted coworker, I submitted the usual packet to receive my separation orders and process out. I figured the orders would get held up if there really was a mistake. Usually these orders take a few weeks to receive. I dropped my packet off one morning four days before I was to take leave, thinking I would get them back once I returned from leave. I got a call at lunchtime telling me to pick them up. Less than three weeks later, I found myself a member of what I used to refer to as “the private sector.”
And it was only the beginning of my journey…