Last week we received this email from Gary, one of the conscientious objectors we helped apply for discharge when he could no longer reconcile his Christian faith with being in the military.
“One year ago I gave you a call.
Today I got a call from my Company Commander, informing me that my application was approved.
I’ve got 4 days left in uniform, and I’ll never wear it again.
Thank you SO MUCH for all your help through this, Steve.”
When he first commissioned, Gary believed he “wanted to defend America’s liberties, to help people who are oppressed, and to stand up to the bullies and thugs who oppress them.” However, after years of military experience, he came to believe that “I cannot love my enemies while also seeking to kill them,” and “I cannot obey the Law of Love and the Law of Violence simultaneously, for following one always forbids following the other.”
We were also recently contacted by a retired sergeant whose son joined the military and is having serious problems. We talked a while about realistic options and approaches for his son getting out. At the end of the call, the father told us that he used to be a first sergeant, and that, when he was in the Army, he knew about our hotline and didn’t like us at all. Now faced with his son’s situation, he said he is very grateful for our work and thanked us for being there. It was a nice endorsement.
His son is not the only one whose mental health and well-being have suffered from being in the military. A little later, another caller detailed having suicidal thoughts and needing help figuring out how to get out safely and remedy his issues. We discussed how getting assistance from the behavioral health unit could lead to immediate safety and lay the groundwork for a potential discharge. Calls like this happen too regularly, and we are sometimes the lifeline people need to see things from a healthy perspective.
Another recent case demonstrated the impact military culture can have on the mental health of service members. The caller seemed somewhat confused. He had just gotten out of the Army and had his discharge papers, but he wanted reassurance that he was now free to live his own life and make his own decisions without impact from military commanders. While in the Army, he had been subject to military regulations, threat of punishment for violating those strict regulations, and the far-reaching control of commanding officers for so long that he still feared punishment if he did what he wanted. He asked if he could just go on a road trip now without consequences. He needed confirmation that he had his life back and could make his own choices. It felt wonderful to tell him that yes, he was free to live his own life. But our hopefulness for his future was mixed with heartbreak over what he must have been through that aroused such strong fears of punishment, fears that he carried even once he was back in the civilian world.
A typical day for us as counselors at Quaker House can include walking someone through the steps of filing for conscientious objection, surrendering from being AWOL, applying for a much needed hardship discharge, or steering neglected people to medical resources. Each day we know we will be needed in some capacity, and we and our callers are grateful for all the support that enables us to answer their call. Every day, donors to Quaker House are making a significant difference in many peoples’ lives. We couldn’t do our work without you.
~Lenore Yarger and Steve Woolford, Quaker House Counselors to the GI Rights Hotline
This post originally appeared as an article in our Autumn 2018 newsletter. Contact us or fill out the form on this web site (home page, at the bottom) if you would like to be added to our mailing list.