“What is wrong with a country where war is glorified and fighting for peace is cowardly?”
When I saw the recent news report about the U.S. military moving toward the use of robot soldiers, I could not resist the obvious retort: Wasn’t that already the case? No less an authority on mass murder than Henry Kissinger once remarked: “Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy.” To buy into this mentality, however, is to write off any possibility of solidarity with American military personnel…like, for example, Sgt. Kevin Benderman.
Benderman, a decorated Iraq war veteran with 10 years service in the US Army, is stationed at Ft. Stewart, GA, with the 3rd Infantry Division. He initially joined the military in 1987 when he was 22. “His family has a long history of military service, dating back to the revolutionary war,”
Benderman’s wife, Monica told me. “Kevin felt a responsibility to serve because of this heritage. He left the military in 1991 and ran his own sub-contracting/flooring business for 8 years. In 2000, after continuing conversations with his father, who was a WWII veteran, he felt that he had not fulfilled his obligation to service, and re-enlisted.” He served one combat tour in Iraq, from March 2003 until September 2003…as part of the 1-10 Calvary 4th Infantry Division from Ft. Hood, Texas.
Overall, not a particularly unusual story for an American soldier, right?
Before you answer, consider one more thing: Sgt. Benderman, a man who believes “War robs you of your humanity. It makes people do terrible things they would otherwise never do,” filed for Conscientious Objector status in December 2004.
“His application was the result of a year of soul-searching as a result of what he had seen during his combat tour and other factors that helped redefine his belief system,” explains Monica.
The U.S. Army was not impressed. First, his commanding officer at the time refused to accept the application. “His attempts to contact the Battalion chaplain for assistance proved futile,” says Monica. “No one in his chain of command provided any assistance with regard to his application, which was in violation of the Army regulations.”
Sgt. Benderman was understandably frustrated. “I’m not going to run from my convictions,” he says. “I believe what I’m doing is the right thing, whatever the consequences.” He did not want to return and be part of what he had witnessed. “You can train all you want and watch training videos, but you can’t possibly know what combat is like until you experience it,” Kevin declares. “You can’t burn a little girl’s arm off in training, or have dogs eat human remains, or have soldiers actually shoot and kill real people…On my last deployment in Iraq elements of my unit were instructed by a Captain to fire on children throwing rocks at us.”
“Kevin missed deployment due to the meetings with the CSM (Command Sgt.
Major),” Monica explains.
On January 7, Kevin’s CSM released him to return home to work on a chronology of events leading to his decision to apply for CO status. Three days later, Benderman reported to Rear Detachment command as ordered where he was told he would be accorded all respect and duties appropriate to him as a NCO.
“On January 16,” Monica told me, “the U.S. Army charged Kevin with Article
85 of the UCMJ, Desertion with the intent to avoid hazardous duty, and Article 87 of the UCMJ, Missing Movement. These two charges carry a maximum penalty of 7 years confinement with loss of rank, loss of benefits, and dishonorable discharge.”
Sgt. Benderman is working with attorneys to defend himself against these charges. He and Monica have brought the details of their story to the public through a website: www.BendermanDefense.org. The resulting support has buoyed their spirits.
“We have heard from many soldiers who support Kevin’s position,” says Monica. “I believe that soldiers are tired of what they have been asked to do, and from what I have heard from family members, many of the soldiers returning now are still trying to assimilate what they have experienced in their time in combat. We cannot speak for how they feel about their own actions, or what they want to do for themselves. We are aware of 20 soldiers currently serving in Iraq who have applied for CO status, along with several in the US. We have also heard that there are 5000 American soldiers now living in Canada, but cannot confirm that number.”
Support has also come from many outside the military…more than Kevin and Monica ever dreamed of. But Monica recognizes the need to bring the story to more people and to keep it alive in the public eye. “We feel that it is important to keep the events of this case in a public forum,” she states, “not only for Kevin’s case, but for others who may be considering a similar path, and for the general public to be aware of the truth in what happens within the military.”
In the meantime, the Benderman’s will continue to clear Kevin of all charges while serving as examples of what is possible.
“We have no other choice,” Monica sums up. “This is what we have to do, I have always told my children that the right thing is the most important thing, and doing it is the only thing that allows you to keep your integrity, regardless of the consequences…One man has stopped killing. One man has chosen to find a path other than war. One man has taken the right road, the only road that leads to sanity, and leads to peace.”
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Mickey Z. is the author or several books and can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.