By Bob Meola, Courage to Resist. May 19, 2015

“There are some noncombatant Conscientious Objector Medics, such as Desmond Doss, who continued service in the military. That worked for their consciences and beliefs. I believe that any type of participation in the military directly perpetuates the cycle of warfare. Ultimately, it keeps the machine rolling. I believe that to truly stand by my objection to all war, I must be out of this organization entirely.”

Robert Weilbacher is a Conscientious Objector. He was classified as a Conscientious Objector (1-0) by the Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board [DACORB] and awaited an Honorable Discharge from the Army as a CO. DACORB, according to Army regulations is the body charged with the ultimate decision-making power in CO cases. Robert should be a civilian now. Yet, contrary to Army Regulations, he is being held against his will by the Army. Courage to Resist and the ACLU need your help to free Robert Weilbacher.

Robert Weilbacher has always been attracted to the idea of serving people and serving his country. He founded two organizations to help the homeless community while at The Ohio State University. The first was Music for the Homeless (he played music and garnered tips, from which, all proceeds went to taking homeless people out to dinner, learning about their life and aiding them with transportation, via his personal vehicle, to rehabilitation clinics, if needed. The second was The Homeless Initiative, which was a shift to work with policymakers to help solve the issues of homelessness. He was recognized with two awards for his academic achievement and volunteer efforts. The Rotary Club awarded him a “Service Above Self” scholarship award and the Columbus Department of Recreation awarded him a Volunteer of the Year Award. He loved helping people and he continues to aid the homeless community to this day. Robert said,

“I love spending time with the homeless community. During the holidays, I’ll make a ton of food and I will go sit out there and eat with them and share stories. I think life is about making impact on other people and sometimes food can be a great morale booster for someone who has nothing. I remember when I was in college and I would see a lot of people spending money on alcohol and I could never do it because I would feel extremely guilty when I walked past someone on the street suffering.”

During his junior year of university, Robert had started working out with the ROTC program and thinking about becoming a Marine Officer. The glorification of military service spread through the media and the persistent focus on showing the U.S. military in a positive light “made it seem like a great, noble choice that I could be proud of.” Military members are always recognized and thanked for their service. Robert did not hear anything negative, so he didn’t question his decision to join the military. He never heard about innocent people, overseas, getting killed by U.S. forces. Ultimately, he came out of college with a great education from The Ohio State University, and a trusting mind towards government and his country. There was nothing for him to question at the time, in regard to participation in the military. Nothing had ever presented for him to question.

After graduating from Ohio State University with a Political Science and English degree, he attended Marine Officer School January of 2012.  After four weeks, he was injured and needed to drop out to seek therapy on his legs for medial tibial stress syndrome.

When he was healed enough, Robert could have gone back to the Marines. The Colonel of Officer Candidate School [OCS] told him “he had a great future ahead of him.” However, due to the long time required to process through OCS selection again, he decided to enlist in the Army as a Healthcare Specialist. His mentor at the time, a former Marine enlisted Infantryman turned Marine Officer retired, guided him throughout the process. He was an inspirational figure in his life during the process. Robert’s mentor suggested enlisting in the army to get a better perspective of the lower side and then transition later on to the officer realm. He suggested to Robert that he would get more respect from soldiers, when he became an officer if they realized he’d been where they had been as an enlistee.

In April 2013, Robert enlisted. He excelled in Basic Combat Training. Then he excelled in Medical Training, while at the same time, being awarded a certification of achievement in Physical Fitness Training. Robert became a Medic in the army.  He did so because it is an altruistic position and he thought he was joining to help people. He did not join for the G.I. Bill or any benefits, in fact, he received no bonuses or offers of loan repayment. He already had his college degree so he ultimately joined because of his true desire to help people. He wanted to do something noble and respected.

Robert was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training. Then he went to Advanced Instructional Training to become a Medic (68W) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He excelled, academically, in the course, as well.  After completing A.I.T., Robert went to Fort Benning, Georgia for Airborne School. There, he got hurt during the second week. He had an ankle injury from all the jumping during landing falls. So, he got held back, due to having a profile for his injury. He was dropped from the course and sent to a holding barracks for injured people and people who quit or were afraid.

While there, he had to do a lot of work details all day–cutting grass, edging lawns, trimming bushes, lots of landscaping work all day. It seemed like a waste of time and it surely hampered his medical abilities because he wasn’t practicing, due to not being in a medical setting. Soldiers there did that until they got orders to go to another duty station. It was low morale for all the soldiers due to the living conditions. It was a very moldy old barracks.  He was there for about two months, until he left for Korea on December 9, 2013.   He was sent to Camp Hovey, about ten miles from North Korea.  He was attached to a Cavalry unit called 4-7 Cavalry. “I was excited to go to Camp Hovey because it was my first time overseas and it was a chance to practice my job in the real Army,” he said.

Robert arrived at 4-7 Cavalry after in processing on December 11, 2013.  It was his first duty station.   He looked forward to it and on January 1, 2014, Robert applied for the Green to Gold non-scholarship program.  His Company Commander, Medical Officer (a former E-7 who went through Green to Gold) and leaders of his medical platoon had recommended that he do so because of his excellent military performance and credentials. Ultimately, he decided that it was an opportunity he should take. Robert said, “The opportunity to be an Officer in the organization that I thought at the time was great and noble – and I was being recommended to take the route in this organization to become a higher leader for the soldiers – who wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to better themselves and advance to a leadership position?”

On January 24, 2014, Robert spoke with Medics, including his Platoon Sergeant (a person he respected as a leader) and another Sergeant, about their prior combat deployment as Medics. They talked about having to shoot their weapons at the enemy and seeing children and family members being blown up as collateral damage of war.  Medics – other than noncombatant Conscientious Objectors carry weapons and are expected to use them if their patients are threatened.  Robert had not previously known that or ever thought about it.  This conversation was the catalyst for Robert beginning to have serious major doubts about his own beliefs and participation in war to any degree at all.  He began an intense process of reading, study, reflection, and meditation.  He read and studied the writings and beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali and the Dalai Lama.  He read material from the Iraq Body Count website. Robert stated,

“Once I googled the statistics about collateral damage through the Iraq body Count website, I was appalled. Once that happened, I started to investigate further conflicts that the U.S. has participated in and the numbers of collateral damage at the expense of U.S. troops was overwhelming. Then other sources came up during that search, activists and scholars alike, such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, MLK, Muhammad Ali, Father John Dear, and Gandhi. I felt betrayed because I joined to help people and then to see how many people we actually hurt or kill made me feel terrible.”

This study, reflection, and meditation and his further conversations with soldiers about their deployment experiences caused a profound change in Robert’s deepest moral and ethical views about participation in war.  Robert expressed,

“There are some noncombatant Conscientious Objector Medics, such as Desmond Doss, who continued service in the military. That worked for their consciences and beliefs. I believe that any type of participation in the military directly perpetuates the cycle of warfare. Ultimately, it keeps the machine rolling. I believe that to truly stand by my objection to all war, I must be out of this organization entirely.”

On February 3, 2014, Robert’s beliefs in regards to his participation in all war became fixed, due to the accumulation of his intense studies and reflection.  On February 5th, he notified his chain of command through his Platoon Sergeant that he was a Conscientious Objector and that because of his sincere moral and ethical opposition to participation in all war, he was going to apply for CO status. The Platoon Sergeant told Robert that he wasn’t shocked to hear that and he informed the First Sergeant and the Sergeant Major and directed Robert to meet with the Unit Chaplain from 4-7 Cavalry since this was a conscience and moral/ethical issue.  After meeting with Robert, the Unit Chaplain prepared and printed out a memorandum supporting the sincerity of Robert’s CO beliefs.  Then, Robert’s command told the Unit Chaplain that he could not complete the memorandum that would have been favorable to Robert, even though it was permitted by the applicable regulation and would have been submitted in favor of Robert’s CO application.

On February 7, 2014, Robert read his CO application to his First Sergeant and they discussed Robert’s beliefs and his application.  On February 11, 2014, Robert submitted his application for CO to the First Sergeant.   He sought discharge as a “1-0 Conscientious Objector opposed to all war and all participation in the military.  He did not seek 1-A-0 noncombatant conscientious objector status.  On that same date, Robert learned via email that he did not receive a time in service waiver for the program because he was trying to waive a high amount of time in service (he needed two years in service). He was not denied on merit and encouraged to reapply because his odds were much higher next time.

Robert’s CO application was accompanied by supporting statements from five military and civilian witnesses who detailed the changes in Robert’s behavior, character, and demeanor during the start of his Conscientious Objector process. They wrote of the seriousness, depth, and genuineness of Robert’s commitment to his views in opposition to participation in war and expressed their respect for his honesty and morality.   Although Robert submitted his CO application promptly, when he realized that his beliefs prevented him from participating in war in any form, the Army delayed in processing his CO application.  The applicable Army regulations set forth an expectation that CO applications will be processed and submitted to DACORB [Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board] within 90 days.   The Army did not submit Robert’s application to DACORB for more than 200 days.  106 days had expired before an Investigating Officer was even appointed to Robert’s case.

After interviewing Robert over a period of three days, a Battalion Chaplain from another unit confirmed the depth and sincerity of Robert’s CO beliefs.  In a memo dated March 26, 2014, the Battalion Chaplain concluded that Robert, an atheist, had beliefs that were “foundational” and “central” to him. He concluded that Robert had come to those beliefs through “exploration and self-study of significant texts” and that Robert was “sincere in his convictions” and that they were “deeply held” and that he “demonstrated consistency in their application to his daily rituals and life activities.”  The chaplain noted that although Robert’s beliefs were developed over a short period of time, his “lifestyle choices and behavior appear to be consistent with his beliefs”.  The chaplain cited Robert’s continued research and study and his replacement of violent video games with nonviolent activity and that Robert clung to his new beliefs without regard to social scorn.

On June 10, 2014, an Investigating Officer was appointed to investigate Robert’s CO claim and a CO hearing was held.  Robert testified, under oath, at his hearing and was questioned extensively by the Investigating Officer.  In a June 16, 2014 memorandum, the Investigating Officer issued his “Findings and Recommendations of Conscientious Objector Investigation”.  He set forth, in detail, the basis for Robert’s beliefs, the chronology of the development of Robert’s beliefs, and how based on the applicable regulatory standards, those beliefs and other evidence met the criteria for recognition as a conscientious objector. The Investigating Officer described Robert as a pacifist atheist who believed not in the principle of religious redemption but only in his own will to do what is morally and ethically right according to his own conscience. He reported that Robert “believes that the value of his own life is measured only by his ability to act within the bounds of his own moral and ethical beliefs and ultimately his ability to live a peaceful and nonviolent life.”  He wrote that Robert, “firmly believes that all human life…should be treated with the utmost respect…[and] holds very dearly the value of all human life and deplores the loss of life, both combatant and noncombatant, caused by war.”  He continued that Robert “believes that the impacts and effects of participation in war are inherently evil, and that his direct or indirect involvement and cooperation are the only rational means by which to manage disagreement at any level.” and that Robert “believes that there is no justification for war, and supports this belief against all wars, past, present, and future.”

The investigating officer concluded that on February 3, 2014, Robert reached a decision that he believed that all war was immoral, and that he had to apply for discharge as a CO.

The investigating officer did not credit the testimony of the two witnesses who disputed Robert’s sincerity.  He found that those two witnesses contradicted themselves.  On the one hand, they testified that Robert was “an honest individual and gave no reason to question his integrity.”  On the other hand, they disputed Robert’s sincerity based on the proximity of his CO application to his denial of acceptance in the Green to Gold program, even though they had a complete misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of the chronology of those events.  Robert had, in fact, concluded that he was a CO and stated so to his Platoon Sergeant and to his First Sergeant before he received the information that he had been denied acceptance in the Green to Gold program.

The Investigating Officer cited Robert’s continued study of nonviolence and his practice of organizing the feeding of the hungry in Korea.  He stated that the soldiers and first line leaders who testified for Robert, knew him best and that they had nothing to gain from supporting him and that it was not likely that they would be dishonest.

After this favorable Report and Recommendation from the Investigating Officer, Robert’s CO Application went through additional procedural steps, including review and recommendation from Robert’s chain of command.  Robert’s Unit Commander recommended approval of his CO Application, stating, “After reviewing the [Investigating Officer’s] findings and recommendations, reviewing [Robert’s] rebuttal, and speaking with [Robert], I believe he is in earnest. He displays integrity and sincerity. I have no reason to doubt his claim or beliefs as a CO.” Robert’s previous Unit Commander also recommended approval of his CO application.

But, Robert’s Battalion Commander and his Brigade Commander, both recommended denying his CO application.  Neither one of them had ever met with Robert. Their stated reasons would not constitute any legally sufficient basis in fact for denial of Robert’s CO application. The Battalion Commander claimed that Robert “is too well-educated” which in his eyes makes it implausible that he can be an Objector. However, this is conjecture and a disregard for the facts of the case.

By August 8, 2014, Robert’s application had been pending for 177 days, through no fault of his own.  The regulations called for it to be processed and submitted to the DACORB within 90 days.  On August 18, 2014, the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) issued a memo confirming that Robert’s case record was legally sufficient in law and fact.  The SJA recommended disapproval, but noted that the Investigating Officer, the Chaplain, and the Company Commander all recommended approving Robert’s application.  The SJA concluded that “there was room for disagreement.”  But the SJA also acknowledged that DACORB was the final authority on Robert’s CO application: “pursuant to AR 600-43, para.2-8. The DACORB….will make the final determination on all applicants requesting discharge (1-0).”

On August 20, 2014 the Division Chaplain issued a memo to the Division Commander recommending disapproval of Robert’s CO application, on the grounds that Robert did not have time to “internalize and maturate his new belief system” and that Robert, an Atheist, was “angry at God.” The Division Chaplain also stated, “He claims to be an Atheist, yet he speaks of the sanctity of human life.” He wrote as if the value of human life can’t be respected if one is an Atheist. It was the SJA who ordered the Division Chaplain to write this memo. The Division Chaplain referred to Robert’s Green to Gold denial and questioned why his claimed beliefs barred his service as a medic.  But the Division Chaplain’s memo was contrary to applicable regulation because he did not meet with Robert to discuss his beliefs and because he included a recommendation with regard to approval or disapproval of the application.  The Division Chaplain is not supposed to issue any recommendation.  And he relied on improper facts and criteria in doing so. The Division Chaplain’s memo, while in violation of applicable law and regulation, seems to have been influential.  On September 8, 2014, Robert’s Division Commander, who was the General Court Martial Convening Authority (GCMCA) recommended that DACORB disapprove Robert’s CO application, on the grounds that Robert “can continue his service obligation as a health care provider” and that Robert had only raised his CO concerns after he failed at Marine Corp OCS and airborne school and after his application for Green to Gold was denied.

Again, the Division Commander never met with Robert and his recommendation was factually erroneous and legally insufficient as a basis in fact to deny Robert’s CO application.  It was believed that this negative action might also have been based on Robert’s lawful protests concerning the delays in the processing of his application. Robert filed an Article 138 informal complaint on the Division Commander after his packet already suffered negligence and was given a specified date on which the Division Commander was going to make the decision to get it sent off to HQDA [Headquarters, Department of the Army]. Once Robert’s military attorney contacted the Division SJA, she was told that the General went on leave. Then Robert filed the informal complaint and sent it to him. He responded immediately and said he would make a decision within the next couple days.

Robert remarked,

“The issue, that seems to be pervasive in CO cases, is that a lot of leadership has trouble separating their personal bias of support for war from someone else’s issue with opposition to participation in war. In my eyes, they should be looking at the issues that I’m suffering from (since I’m the one with the Conscientious Objection process) as a result of continued participation in an organization that promotes warfare – not how this doesn’t promote their agenda on war.”

On September 14, 2014, Robert’s application and packet was finally complete and in accordance with applicable law and regulation, was submitted to the DACORB for final action. In a memorandum, dated December 16, 2014, [“the DACORB determination’], DACORB issued its determination that Robert’s CO application met the burden of proof for obtaining CO status.

The DACORB presented its Analyst’s Discussion and Conclusions, and drew on the favorable attention to the positive recommendations of the unit commanders and the Investigating Officer. The DACORB confirmed Robert’s clear statement of his beliefs, his crystallization of those beliefs, the chaplain’s several interviews with Robert, and his opinion that Robert’s beliefs were sincere.  The DACORB confirmed that the Division Chaplain’s recommendation was prohibited by applicable regulation.  The DACORB gave weight to the Investigating Officer’s findings.   The DACORB Analyst’s Discussion concluded that after carefully reviewing all the evidence, Robert “has clearly shown that he is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form as he believes he must live peacefully and nonviolently based on his moral and ethical beliefs, and that his CO belief is firm, fixed, and deeply held.”

The DACORB also found that because of Robert’s firm and fixed beliefs, “he found himself with no inner peace and struggles with the conflict between his deeply held beliefs and military service.” By a majority vote, the DACORB voted that the merits determined that Robert warranted being classified as a CO (1-0). Robert was granted an Honorable Discharge from the Army as a Conscientious Objector.  That should have been and should be the end of the story. Robert should no longer be in the Army.  He should be a civilian again living by his beliefs.

However, in violation of all applicable law and regulation, Robert was kept waiting for another two months after the DACORB decision to classify him as a Conscientious Objector.  Robert was experiencing deep depression as a Conscientious Objector, who was being held in the Army, against his will and against Army regulations.  On January 23, 2015, Robert’s attorney sought information regarding the status of his CO claim. The claim was waiting on a signature.    On February 5, 2015, Robert’s lawyer again inquired regarding Robert’s release from the Army.

In a memorandum issued on February 19, 2015, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Review Boards) claimed authority to override the DACORB Determination, and contrary to the DACORB Determination, unlawfully denied Robert’s CO application.  No reasons were stated for doing so.  No proper legal or regulatory authority for doing so was identified.  According to Robert’s “Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus And Other Relief By A person In Military Custody” in U.S. District Court, “The Deputy Assistant Secretary unlawfully denied Robert’s CO application without a sufficient reason, and in particular without any legally sufficient basis in fact, as well as without proper legal authority.”

Robert continues to speak out about his beliefs in opposition to all war. He is continuing his practice of reading, study, meditation and reflection on pacifist and peace writers and activists. He is communicating with peace activists. Robert has not trained with or employed a weapon since he submitted his CO application, even after receiving the Deputy Secretary’s unauthorized denial of his CO application.  He has suffered harm by continued participation in an environment counter to his moral and ethical beliefs.  He submitted his CO application on February 11, 2014, but was not assigned to duty that minimized conflict with his CO beliefs, as required by applicable Army regulation, until April 21, 2014. Since the Army, illegally reversed the DACORB decision and denied Robert’s CO claim, Robert no longer enjoys the protection of the Army regulation requiring his assignment to duty that minimizes his conflict with his CO beliefs, because the Army has made a final decision denying his CO application. Now Robert is in a situation that conflicts with his beliefs. He recently returned to the Army, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after being on leave after returning from Korea. From now on, if Robert refuses orders that conflict with his existence as a Conscientious Objector, he can be court-martialed and punished.

Robert said, “I’m being held to a double standard. On one end, I’m expected to follow Army regulation, which is what I’ve done during this entire process maintaining integrity and respect, but if I refused orders because of my Conscientious Objector beliefs that run my life and which DACORB rightfully recognized – then I would be court-martialed and punished. Yet, the regulation for Conscientious Objection is ignored because it is counter to the Army mission and no punishment is issued to the people ignoring that regulation.” This double standard has caused psychological harm. As a result, Robert said, “I’m dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, severe depression, no energy.” The army is showing no regard for his health and well-being.

The Army is also, besides violating its own regulations, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as it has burdened Robert’s exercise of his religion. And the Army has also violated Robert’s right to Equal Protection under the law as implied by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution because it has held him to a different and more stringent legal standard than other CO applicants.

Robert should not be at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He should not be in uniform.  He needs everyone to support the demand that he be immediately and honorably discharged from the Army.

“Thank you to all of the people donating to my campaign. That truly means a lot to me – that most of you don’t know me, but you are reaching out to show that we stand in solidarity together. I want to thank Maria Santelli from the Center on Conscience and War who has been with me through the entire process and all of the other wonderful people who have directly impacted my life; James Branum, Jeff Paterson, Bill Galvin, Steve Dignazio (you are a true leader and you have a great future ahead of you), the list is exhaustive, but you know who you are.”—Robert Weilbacher

At this time we do not know the extent of Robert’s eventual legal costs. If it turns out that we have funds beyond those needed for his appeal process, we will use those funds to support other objectors as well.