(By Christian Hill, distributed by Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News, June 6 2006)
A Fort Lewis soldier is poised to become the first U.S. military officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, his supporters said Monday.
The officer, whom supporters so far will identify only by the initials LT, will attend a news conference Wednesday in Tacoma to make his identity known and explain the reasons for his refusal.
He has the backing of both national and South Sound anti-Iraq War groups. A Web site set up by supporters, www.thankyoult.org, includes a statement attributed to the officer.
"I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression," it reads in part. "I wanted to be there for my fellow troops. But the best way was not to help drop artillery and cause more death and destruction. It is to help oppose this war and end it so that all soldiers can come home."
Jeff Paterson, a national organizer for Not In Our Name, an Oakland, Calif.-based anti-war group, did not know which Fort Lewis brigade the officer was assigned to but said the officer told him the unit was set to deploy this month.
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team, had its deployment ceremony Friday and will begin le aving later this month for its second deployment to Iraq.
Paterson said the officer e-mailed him about six months ago to ask if Not In Our Name would support him if he publicly refused to deploy.
The men exchanged e-mails for months, and Paterson said the officer asked him more recently to gather support. The officer has a lawyer, but Paterson declined to identify the attorney.
A working group was formed that included Not in Our Name and other anti-war organizations, including the War Resisters League, Veterans for Peace and Courage to Resist. The working group has received support from South Sound groups, including the Veterans for Peace - Rachel Corrie Chapter in Olympia.
Larry Mosqueda, a professor at The Evergreen State College in Olympia and an associate member of the chapter, said he met with the officer for an hour recently and is sure of his conviction.
"I have no doubt that he's going to do it," Mosqueda said.
The chapter plans to release a statement of support for the officer at his news conference.
Supporters declined to identify the officer because of concerns the military might intervene. The Olympia n was unable to identify the officer independently.
Paterson said the officer is a first lieutenant - the common abbreviation for lieutenant is Lt. - and has served in the Army for three years.
The officer had attempted unsuccessfully to leave the military, Paterson said.
"He tried to resign (his commission) in January, and the brass told him to keep thinking about it, hoping he'd change his mind. I don't think he's going to change his mind now," Paterson said.
Without a name or unit, Fort Lewis couldn't comment on the officer, said Tammy Reed, a civilian spokeswoman at the Army post.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said it doesn't track the number of U.S. service members who have refused to deploy to Iraq, and that each service branch would need to be contacted independently. Figures from the Army weren't available Monday so The Olympian couldn't verify supporters' claims that the officer would be the first to publicly refuse orders.
If the officer follows through, he could be charged under military law with desertion or "missing movement," when a soldier through design or neglect misses the movement of a unit. Desertion, a more serious offense, occurs when a soldier remains permanently absent from his unit without permission. If charged, the soldier would be subject to a general court-martial to determine innocence or guilt. The court-martial also would determine the punishment.
In a similar Fort Lewis case, Sgt. Kevin Benderman served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003, but refused to return for a second deployment because he concluded war is inhumane. The Army rejected his requests for conscientious objector status. He was sentenced to 15 months for "missing movement" to Iraq and now is serving his time at Fort Lewis.
Activists opposed to the Iraq War have had local rallies for his release.