Conscientious Objectors Tell Their Stories
This is an extended version of the article by Lenore Yarger, Quaker House counselor to the GI Rights Hotline, printed in our Fall 2021 newsletter, HomeFront.
Kristofer Miller was a sergeant in Special Forces training at Ft. Bragg when he first began to question his role in the US Army. “I was sent to squad unit tactics, which is a six-week course, where I was taught how to conduct unconventional warfare. More specifically, I was taught how to murder other people with precision and brutality.”
During one training exercise, Kris’ instructor berated and mocked him for using “precise fire” to address a hostage situation. He described his instructor’s reaction: “‘You shoot them until they change shape.’ . . . This saying became the motto of my squad for the duration of training. ‘Shoot them until they change shape.’”
In part because of these experiences, Kristofer became a conscientious objector (CO) and submitted an application for discharge from the Army in 2019. He shared his story in a panel discussion sponsored by Quaker House in June along with four other conscientious objectors currently working with us at Quaker House. Each had their own unique path toward becoming a CO, but all reflected a deep, emotional commitment to follow their conscience and to reject war, killing, and violence.
Several of them spoke about how, after they joined the military, they found themselves deepening their faith. JD Reisinger, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard, realized a deep contradiction between his role in the military and his beliefs as he began to embrace Buddhism. On a retreat with other Buddhists, “There were times when I would be mediating and chanting sutras like ‘Saving all beings,’ and, ‘With this food I take to nourish myself and promise to alleviate suffering for everyone.’” Then he would wake up early, take off his Buddhist robes, and put on his military uniform to go to a weekend drill. The irony struck him deeply, and eventually he knew he had to get out of the Guard.
For Alyssa Fairfax, Islam became the guide that led her away from participating in war as an Air Force air traffic controller. “Islam is really peaceful if you’re studying it and applying it the way that you’re supposed to and not just taking it and making your own rules from it. I felt like I wasn’t doing something peaceful.” She spoke about how the stories she heard from retired military personnel in the air traffic control tower unsettled her.
“They were telling me how they would clear bombers in other countries to take off and they’d be coming back empty, and it just made me [think], that’s what I’m doing . . . Obviously, I’m not directly on the ground, . . . but you do see how what you do impacts other people and other people’s lives. It was hard for me to keep a job where I felt like I was playing a part in killing people or being destructive.”
Just days before the webinar, Alyssa received word that the Air Force had approved her discharge. The other panelists are still at various stages of the process. David Hice graduated this past spring from West Point Academy and is living there pending surgeries for injuries he sustained while a student. He spoke on the panel about how, for as long as he could remember, all he ever wanted to do was follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Army. Over his four years as a West Point cadet, however, he undertook a rigorous exploration of US foreign policy and the history of US military intervention abroad in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He began to question what he was training for, but it wasn’t until he began studying nonviolence, insurgency movements, and freedom fighters that he came to the conclusion that all forms of violence are immoral. He wanted to get out of his commitment to serve as an officer who would lead others in acts he knew in his heart were wrong. For a short while he hesitated when he considered the financial cost of applying for CO status—paying back four years of an all-expenses paid college education.
“I remember graduation day as I was sitting out there on our parade field, and I just felt so ashamed of myself. I couldn’t get it out of my head, ‘how’d I get to this point? You know what the right answer is, and you’re just ignoring it.’ I really felt I was just being a huge coward.” He submitted his application.
Three of the five military panelists who spoke about realizing they
were conscientious objectors.
The panelists spoke openly and honestly about what it was like to feel completely alone as they found themselves increasingly conflicted about their participation in the military. Amonte Crawley, member of the Ohio Army National Guard, explained: “In basic [training], I definitely felt alone. At night, I would literally read my Bible alone inside the bathroom. I would get caught and yelled at plenty of times, but I really didn’t care at this point. I was really alone, and I was the only person that really believed in God inside my bay.”
Eventually Amonte’s Guard unit was mobilized for the presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, and he was given a leadership position. He knew he couldn’t give others orders to use military force. That’s when he decided to contact Quaker House for help applying as a CO. (Thankfully, he didn’t end up going to DC.)
Amonte and all the panelists told how much they appreciated the support of Quaker House counseling through every phase of the process, from editing their written application, to attending their hearing with the investigative officer, writing rebuttals, and awaiting a final decision. For us at Quaker House, it continues to be an honor accompanying them on their journeys. Each one of them has shown tremendous courage and strength, and for most of them, the process hasn’t yet ended.
Kristofer told the audience that the past two years since submitting his CO application have been hard. (Army processing of CO applications was slowed by the COVID crisis.) “But even at my lowest points, it’s still better than the alternative, because I’m at home with my loving wife, and now I’ve got a 5-month-old, which is awesome, and my two sons. I was not hiding in the woods of a foreign land, plotting to ambush and massacre fathers, mothers, siblings, and children. . . . Sometimes it is the smallest of interactions that push us the most. I am just glad I was pushed off the path of war and onto the path of loving kindness.”
Kristofer Miller was discharged October 15, 2021, and we are thrilled for him.
“Thank you for all your help and support. Not sure what
I would have done if you* two didn’t help.
*Quaker House counselors to the GI Rights Hotline, Lenore Yarger and Steve Woolford.
See below for the full video of our discussion with these five amazing individuals.
In the last 12 months, Lenore and Steve have taken 2,703 unique calls that have come into the GI Rights Hotline (see chart below for monthly breakdown). This represents approximately one-third of all the calls that come into the Hotline (and includes calls about conscientious objection as well as other types of calls for help). There is no charge to callers.
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