A US Marine reservist who deserted his unit turned himself in and declared himself a conscientious objector today, officials said, becoming one of the first to do so since war erupted in Iraq.
Lance Corporal Stephen Funk, 20, who signed up for the Marines and went through boot camp last year, underwent expert marksman training before realising he did not want to join the violence.
He turned up at his Marine base in the Californian city of San Jose, south of San Francisco, to register as a conscientious objector, becoming one of the first members of the US armed forces to do so since war erupted last month.
"He turned himself in this morning," said Captain Patrick O'Rourke of the Marines' 1st Beach Terminal Operations, 4th Landing Support Battalion.
"This is a common thing, it's nothing special," he said, playing down the significance of Funk's action that came amid a blaze of publicity as US forces battle towards the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Funk's Marine reserve company received orders to deploy for possible war last month, prompting the soft-spoken youngster to decide he was not cut out for killing, the San Jose Mercury Herald said.
He was declared AWOL (absent without leave) after failing to turn up as ordered when his unit was shifted to the Camp Pendleton Marine base near the city of San Diego.
"I believe that it is impossible to achieve peace through violence," Funk said in a statement released by his lawyer Stephen Collier.
"I hope other soldiers will find the courage to follow their beliefs."
Funk will not be detained or punished and will simply have to turn up for duty until his petition for conscientious objector status is processed, O'Rourke said.
While military officials said they did not expect to receive many applications from conscientious objectors, pacifist groups reported a rise in requests for information since Washington began mobilising for war with Iraq.
"Our call volume has doubled," Teresa Panepinto of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors told the Mercury Herald.