The defining moment in Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk's brief stint as a Marine Corps reservist came early, while he was still in combat training.
During shooting practice, Funk got high scores for marksmanship but low marks overall. When he asked why, his commander said he didn't think Funk would do well in battle.
Funk agreed. "I don't want to kill anybody," he said.
The 20-year-old, who has been AWOL since refusing orders to deploy for active duty in February, turned himself in to military authorities in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday and asked that he be declared a conscientious objector to war. Funk, who grew up in Washington state, is one of the first members of the military to request discharge as a conscientious objector since the war with Iraq began.
But he probably won't be the last.
Anti-war groups say they have been flooded for weeks with calls from military personnel and civilians wanting to know how they can become conscientious objectors.
"It's one thing to play war games on video," said J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, which defends the rights of conscientious objectors. "It's another to face it face to face. Sometimes it takes that for people to understand in their heart of hearts that war is wrong."
Military law allows service men and women to request honorable discharges as conscientious objectors if they oppose war on the basis of religious beliefs or some other deeply held moral conviction.
"I am a conscientious objector because there is no way for me to remain a Marine without sacrificing my entire sense of self-respect," Funk said before he turned himself in.
Conscientious objection in the United States dates all the way back to the Civil War when Quakers, Mennonites and members of other pacifist religious sects were allowed to work in military hospitals instead of fighting with the troops.
During World War II, 37,000 conscientious objectors refused to fight. About 170,000 people were granted conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.
The numbers tapered off dramatically after the draft was abolished and the country moved to an all-volunteer military. But anti-war groups say it's not unusual for the numbers to rise in times of war.
There were 117 conscientious objectors during the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- more than any other year during the decade.
The Defense Department says there has been no noticeable increase in the number of conscientious objector requests this year.
But calls to the GI Rights Hotline doubled in the weeks leading up to the war with Iraq, said Brian Cross of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, which runs the hotline.
Some might question why anyone would sign up for military service if they object to war. But McNeil said many recruits don't come to fully realize their beliefs until they already have enlisted.