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:: Article nr. 9836 sent on 21-feb-2005 02:38 ECT
My Conscientious Objector Story
Chas Davis, Axis of Logic
Feb 17, 2005, 23:10
Editor’s note: I met Chas Davis at the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit, a project of the American Friends Service Committee, in Houston on February 9. He told me a bit about his efforts and eventual success in being released from military service as a conscientious objector. This is his story, and his aim is that everyone in the service who has come to the same crisis of conscience that he did should know that there is a way out of the service of war and death and destruction, and a way to serve peace and humanity. It is a privilege to present his story, and to offer those who find common cause with him the information and support they need to follow their hearts and their consciences.
- Beth Moore, Editor
February 18, 2005 -- I enlisted in the US Army in October of 2002. My best friend at the time was enlisting and he took me to an Army vs. U of H football game in Houston. At that time, I had no plans of enlisting and I had actually made my friend promise not to let the recruiters get hold of me. Well, when I got there, I started talking with some of the other recruits and they told me about the sign-on bonuses they got, the guaranteed duty stations, the free college. Wow.... it really sounded like it could be pretty cool. I couldn't afford to go to college, I had dropped out of high school and only had a GED, and this seemed like it might be a pretty cool way to get my education and be able to do a good thing for our country in the process.
I laugh sometimes at how naive I was back then.
So I got sucked in. I got sucked in by the rock-climbing walls they had set up at the game, the awesome advertisements about how much fun the military was, the recruiters that I talked to (because I finally caved in and wanted to hear what they could offer me). I went down to the recruiting station in Friendswood and took the practice ASVAB, and I did really well. They made me feel smart.... another one of their tactics. So I decided to take the real test and see what jobs I was eligible for. When I got the results of the test, I found out that I had scored high enough to be eligible for any job in the army. But..... I only had a GED instead of a diploma, so there were only a few jobs that I could choose from, regardless of how high I scored. Well, when it all finally came down to it, I decided to go with military police. The recruiter- SSG Edward Gary- showed me a video of the job I would be doing. He told me that I would simply sit in a jail all day and watch prisoners. Or I would drive around a base working on patrol..... but he specifically told me that MPs DID NOT DEPLOY. (I later learned that he had bald-faced lied to me.) Well, that sounded great! I could become a cop and go to school for free...... then I would have all kinds of options when I got out of the army.
Well, they wound up giving me the lowest possible amount for the GI Bill, no guaranteed duty station, and no sign-on bonus. What a dip I was..... I didn't realize that he CHOSE not to give me that stuff. He had me convinced that this was the only way that I could come in. So I took the bait and signed on the dotted line. I left for basic training November 21st of 2002. It was scary.... as most people expect it to be. All the yelling and screaming, and push-ups..... but I figured that if I could get through it then I could get through anything. Basic really isn't all that hard when you figure out that its all just a mind game.
The only thing that never really sat right with me in basic was the cadences that we would sing. We would sing about machine-gunning all of the "commie kids" in the church, murdering entire "commie" families. The worst one was called "Sniper Wonderland." Here is how it started out:
"See the little girl with the puppy; Lock and load a hollow pointed round...... Take the shot and maybe if you're lucky; you'll watch their lifeless bodies hit the ground....... Through the fields we'll be walkin; cross the rooftops we'll be stalkin’..... one shot one kill from the top of the hill...... walkin’ in a sniper wonderland."
Is that not one of the sickest things that you have ever heard? And as uncomfortable as it was to sing this stuff, I did it anyway, because if you don't, then you are punished. So I went along with it. I was a good little soldier, and on top of it, I am a people pleaser by nature, so I wanted the drill sgts to think I was a good soldier. I didn't want to let them down.
That was the worst part of basic training by far. I actually had fun with some of the other stuff. My family was never into guns, so I got to do things that I never had before, and it was exciting. I never thought about the fact that one day the target that I was shooting at could be a real living, breathing person. I was a good shot, and I was good at learning the paperwork for the police part of the job. I did become unhappy for a while when I finally figured out that my job was going to be nothing like the recruiter had told me. But I figured it was all for a good cause regardless, and that I could still get my education, so I would muster through. I graduated from basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) on April 11, 2003. I went home on a "home-town recruiting" thing so that I could go home without using any leave. Basically what this was was a way to use us soldiers to help the recruiters meet their numbers and quotas. I left for the Republic of Korea on April 26th.
Wow! That was a big day. I was 19 and finally on my own! I wasn't living at home with mom and dad anymore. I was going to see the world and get paid to do it! But when I arrived in Korea, it was kind of depressing. The weather was awful and I didn't think the bus ride from Osan Air Base to Yongsan Army Base was ever going to end. The first night I was there, they put me up off-post in a hotel because the hotel on Yongsan was full. It was great because I got to go out and see all of the shops and restaurants around the base. It was so weird to see things like Dunkin Donuts and 7/11 in Korea. I took loads of pictures and it was really exciting. After a week or so of inprocessing, I was shipped up to Camp Page in Chuncheon. I was assigned to the 55th Military Police Company, 4th platoon. Anyway, to make a long story short, I loved it. I still didn't have any real idea of how the regular army worked, and at this point I was still in culture shock and just excited at all of the new experiences.
I got settled in pretty quickly and I got to know everyone pretty well, too. I also found out that even though the drinking age was 20, I could drink at the clubs off-post and no one would say anything to me because I was an MP. I didn't really notice the hypocrisy in that. Then I found that there were slot machines. So here I was.... I was 19, I could drink, I could gamble, I could even get people in trouble for the same things that I got away with! All of this just seemed perfect! I was by no means a tough MP, though. I made a personal decision not to bust anyone for the things that I was doing myself. One night, however, I was on patrol in the ville and came across a group of soldiers out 3 hours after curfew. One of them was obviously pregnant. I watched as she stumbled and tried to walk down the sidewalk. She was drunk. I decided that I should pick her up and take the rest of the soldiers in who allowed her to drink. Well, when I got out of the truck, she tried to run from me. After a lot of talking and convincing, I coaxed her into the patrol vehicle. When I questioned the others who were with her, I found out that it was her leadership that had taken her out! Her platoon Sgt had taken out an 18-year-old girl who was six months pregnant, and gotten her drunk! I was pissed.... pissed that someone in a position of authority would allow her to risk the life of her unborn child so that she could have a good time. I took them all back to the MP station and briefed the desk Sgt on the situation. He told me that he would handle it. I was sitting there as he told the platoon Sgt to take her back to her room and let her sleep, and then he told them to have a good night. This really bothered me. I was still a brand new private, though, and I didn't really know that I could have gone over the Desk Sgts head at the time. So I played it cool and went about my business, not wanting to "rock the boat."
I do believe that this was the first event that made me start questioning what I was really a part of. The next thing made me wonder what I had been smoking when I joined the military was when I went home on leave that November. While I was home, I went with my mom to a house party for the release of a DVD called "Uncovered", by Robert Greenwald. The movie did not arrive in time for the party, but I did get to meet some great people. The person who had a huge impact on me at that party was a professor of medical ethics and philosophy. He and his wife told me of their son who was in the first Gulf War, and who came back and lost control of half of his face. They assumed of course that it was something that Saddam had used on them. Then, two years later, they got a letter from the DOD informing them that it was caused by the completely untested vaccines that they had given him, and that a very large group in his unit was experiencing the same debilitating effects. But, I thought, this was more than ten years ago. I was sure things had gotten better. Then they told me of the two US Army doctors who had just been sent to jail for refusing to administer untested vaccines in this Gulf War! I was blown away. I was beginning to be afraid of what I had done. What the hell had I gotten myself into? What could I do about it?
When I got back to Korea, I started educating myself. I started reading and doing research on the internet about what was really going on in the world. God, had I been blind. I read Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomski, and others, and I read first-hand accounts of what soldiers and civilians were experiencing in the "War on Terror." I was utterly disgusted. So for a few months I just soaked up all of the information that I could. And by the time I was done, I had come to the realization that all war is, is a never-ending cycle of violence, and that we have the ability as a nation to stop it. What did these wars solve? Who did it help when we invaded Iraq? The thousands upon thousands of innocent dead people? No. It did not help anyone except the war profiteers -- the defense contractors, weapons makers, politicians like Bush. But God, what could I do about it? How could I get out of this murder machine that I was caught up in? How had I been so blind and naive?
In December, Christmas Eve, in fact, I met Steph Rocque. She is a Canadian English teacher over there. I tell ya, she was my salvation. It might not have been love at first sight, but it was such an immediate connection that love came really quickly thereafter. She was someone that I could talk to about anything that I was feeling, and when I was with her I didn’t have to think about all of the "hooah hooah" army stuff. I started hanging out with all of the local English teachers -- people from Canada, Scotland, South Africa, and other places. I was able to get some different perspectives on things, other than what all of the army guys thought.
While all this was going on, my mom was busy doing research. She came across the GI Rights Hotline, and read up on conscientious objection. It appeared to be the perfect way out. The specifics of the regulation seemed to fit me perfectly. It did, however, appear to be a very daunting task. I did not have the foggiest clue as to where or how to start. Shortly after that, she put me in contact with Harold Helm and Howard Welsh. They gave me the basic rundown on how to start putting my packet together. I started working on it and really took my time, because I really had to open myself up and spill my guts about my negative feelings about war to people who were very proud to be doing what they are doing in the army.
The first step in the process was to answer seven questions. The answers had to be at least one page long, and I had to go through everything that had led to my coming to believe war is wrong. So I wrote it. I was pretty bitter toward the military at the time, so I was not very polite, either. This, I learned, was a big mistake. I sent off my Q&A to Harold and Howard, who promptly responded with corrections for even the most minute details. What I had done in my original writing was to put the reader on the defensive. This is a mistake, because no one is going to want to help you if you are attacking them. They taught me what mutual respect was. I learned that I could respect the fact that these people were proudly serving in the military, and that I should show them respect for fighting for what they believe is right. In turn, I simply asked for the same respect to be given to me. This was not an easy thing to do -- to respect people who were a part of something that I believed was so wrong.
After about 4 rewrites, I had it completed. Early on, I had told my platoon SFC that I was considering becoming a C.O., and she had told me that she would support me when I decided to do it. At the time I was a very good soldier. I was ten minutes early for work every day, I had spit-shined boots, and stiff-pressed uniforms. I was, as she put it, her go-to guy. I was a quick learner, so I was able to do anything that she asked with no supervision, and she could trust me with making sure things got done. I believe that this is one of the biggest things that helped me. There was a short time during this process when I became extremely unhappy and bitter at being there and I stopped doing things right -- no kiwi on my boots, no creases in my uniforms, I would not shave, and I suffered the consequences. At that point though, I didn't really care. I was under the impression that my packet was going to be a sure thing. I was very mistaken. She pulled me aside after PT one morning. She said "Davis, you have really turned into a shit-bag." She told me how she had respected me for doing my job as well as I did regardless of the packet. She told me that it was about having enough self-respect to do well what ever I did. I took what she said and chewed on it for a few days. The following Monday, I showed up to work with my "shit" back together. And do you know what I learned? I learned that when I gave her everything that I had, she did the same in return. She would have an update every day on where my packet was, who had it, and how much longer it should take. She even got our platoon leader, Lt. Lee, to help me as well. It was great to have these people on my side. And the reason that they were on my side was because I showed them the respect that they deserved as my bosses, regardless of whether or not I agreed with their views on the world.
Anyway, getting back to the actual process. The first step after I submitted my packet was a chaplain interview. I had to meet with the post chaplain and he had to determine if he believed that my beliefs were sincere. It was a great meeting. We talked for a good two hours, and by the end of it, he was whole heartedly convinced that I was sincere, and that was because I was completely honest with him and I proved to him that I still respected him for proudly doing what he was doing. The next step in the process was to get my head shrunk. I had to go have a mental evaluation. It went really smoothly, as I expected, because I really didn't think that I was crazy. After that was when things started moving very slowly.
My packet was funneled through the company-level chain of command and approved by my company commander and sent up to battalion. I guess it just kind of blind-sided them, because they just sat on it, as did brigade after that for a few months. I don't think that anyone up there had ever seen one before, and they really just didn't know what to do with it. I would ask for updates every single day -- that was key I think -- and they would just tell me that it was out of the company’s hands, and that battalion and brigade had it now. But every day, like clockwork, I would ask for a status on it. I think that helped. No letting up, pressuring them to push it through, if anything, just so that I would leave them alone.
When push finally came to shove, I had to appear before my battalion and brigade commanders in the same day. When I went before Lt. Col. Davies, my battalion commander, it was almost fun. He understood from the get-go that I was not going to budge, so our meeting almost turned into like a political debate. That probably would have been a bad thing if it had been anyone else, because usually, bringing politics into a c.o. application will get you an automatic denial. But he was very cool about it and he sent me away from the meeting telling me how impressed he was with me for standing so strongly for my beliefs, and that he thought I was well-spoken and intelligent. That was a real boost, because I had been so nervous going into the meeting that I felt sick.
After that came the meeting with Col. Heard, my brigade commander. He was a different story altogether. The brigade command sergeant-major wanted to meet with me before I saw the commander so that he could get an idea of what was going on. After I spilled my guts to him, he told me that it was his opinion that this was still an all-volunteer army and that if I didn't want to be here, he didn't want me here. So I felt somewhat confident going into my meeting with the commander. He was very hard to read. He sat back at his desk and propped his feet up, pulled his glasses down to the end of his nose and would never once make eye contact with me. He kept glancing back and forth between the CSM and my new squad leader who were both in the room with me. Basically what the meeting boiled down to was him testing me. He asked me if he ordered me to pick up a weapon that night and work patrol (I was taken off of patrol and not forced to do anything with weapons after I submitted my packet), would I do it? I stuck to my guns. I told him that I would blatantly refuse a direct order from him if he ordered me to do that. Then he told me that he could have me charged and sent to Ft. Leavenworth for that. And that was how he ended the meeting. Needless to say, I left that meeting with a very uneasy feeling, because I didn't know at the time that he was just testing me.
After those two meetings, things began to move slowly again. I heard nothing for quite a while. Once again, no one could tell me anything about what was going on. They kept saying that it was at the commanding general's office. I would have to meet with him. At the beginning of January, I got a phone call at around 8 at night, from SFC Kling, my former platoon SFC and now the operations SFC for the whole company. (Sergeant First Class). She told me, " Davis, your re-enlistment paper finally came in!" I knew exactly what she was talking about. This just goes to show you how poorly the different parts of the army communicate. No one knew what the hell was going on, and then one day out of the blue, I get a call telling me that it has already been through Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board and that it has been approved. But I really didn't care how it got approved, just that it did. I thanked SFC Kling over and again for her help and support. And then I yelled at the top of my lungs. It had to be the most accomplished moment that I have ever had in my life. So I started clearing the unit, and I was home on January 15th.
One thing that I would like to add, that I didn't say earlier was what General Richard North, the US liaison for the six-party talks with North Korea told me. I was pulling security for him and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff one time and I was posted outside the Chairman's hotel room door. I got to meet him and all of his group. General North was one of them. It was really funny because he had been walking around the whole time in civilian clothes and so none of us knew who he was, including the officer who was heading up the security mission, Capt. Morgan (yes that is his real name). Capt. Morgan stopped him one night and asked him "who the hell are you anyway?" I have never seen an officer snap to attention so fast in all my life. It was absolutely hilarious. General North was very cool about it though, a very laid-back man. It was incredible, because we got to talk to him for a couple of hours. What he told us was extremely scary. He told us that he commands two division-size units in the Pacific Rim, one of which was in Afghanistan. The problem that he had was that he had no control to make command decisions about his unit. He could not bark a single order or movement without the approval of our politicians..... who have ZERO military experience! He said that that was why we have been losing so many troops, because people who have no military experience are the ones now running the military! This was mind-numbing to me. And to hear it from the "horse's mouth" too. I just thought that you might find that interesting.
Anyway, this is where I am now. I was contacted by Chris Harrison a while back about trying to start a conscientious objector support group. He knew that groups like it already existed, but they are so busy, and are all volunteers, so they can only help so many people. Then we made contact with another Conscientious Objector by the name of Perry O'Brien, who was recently discharged while stationed in Afghanistan.
Well, now Perry has launched the site: http://www.peace-out.com. It is already working on a small scale, and we have five or six other COs on there. Basically what we are doing is making contact with soldiers from any branch of service who are applying for conscientious objector status, and helping them with their packets and giving them advice on how the system works.
The problem we are facing is that there are a lot of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who feel this way, but most do not even know that the conscientious objector regulation exists. It is almost as though it is a hidden regulation, intentionally, I'm sure. We need everybody’s help to get the information out there that this regulation exists. There is an option for these people. We need to help them. Please get this story or at least just the information out there to any media outlets that you have, especially mainstream, because I am afraid that that will probably be the only way to get it to the soldiers. I am also in the first steps of trying to start a counter-recruiting program here in Alvin, Texas. We will see how that plays out.
If you would like to read my initial C.O. application and Q&A please visit my personal website at http://www.freewebs.com/the_intermind/.
Fighting the Powers That Be,
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow, domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
© Copyright 2005 by AxisofLogic.com
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