PHILADELPHIA — Marine Corps Lance Corporal John Rogowskyj Jr. says he is a conscientious objector and should be discharged from the service. He has been interviewed by a military chaplain, examined by a psychiatrist, and questioned by a hearing officer who recommended conscientious objector, or CO, status and immediate separation. But this month, Rogowskyj was deployed to Iraq.
Rogowskyj is one of a handful of troops who, in the past few years, have sought to leave the service as conscientious objectors or be placed in noncombat roles. He has taken his case for discharge to federal court in Washington. This year, three of 15 CO applications received by the Marine Corps through mid-August were approved. And 33 others of the 42 applications received by the Army as of Sept. 30 were approved. But J.E. McNeil , executive director of the nonprofit Center on Conscience and War in Washington, which advises personnel on conscientious-objector discharges, said many more service members had sought CO status than the military is reporting.
"They only count the CO applications when they are done," she said. "When somebody applies, it takes 18 months. "Many call us and say, 'I can't do this anymore,' and we talk about faster, easier ways to get out and that wouldn't be as a CO. It would be for hardship, medical reasons, or failure to participate."
McNeil said many had joined the National Guard thinking they would be called up to help during natural disasters or riots. They didn't believe they would be sent to Iraq.
Rogowskyj joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 2002 for a term of eight years and was assigned to the Fourth Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of the Fourth Marine Division. He was ordered to active duty in 2003, and submitted a request for a CO discharge this year.
"I see now that I must separate from the military with all due haste, or suffer without the forgiveness of grace, for defying the truth that I see plainly before me, that violence as a means or end cannot be tolerated," said Rogowskyj, who identifies himself in court papers as a religious humanist who believes in "spiritual accountability" but does not follow any organized religion.
In August, Major General D.V. Odell Jr., commander of the Fourth Marine Division, said Rogowskyj was "theologically confused and does not reflect any officially recognized faith group."After that, a CO Status Screening Board denied Rogowskyj's discharge, saying it "believed that the timing of [petitioner's] request, coming after notification of his unit's combat mobilization, was simply a means to avoid a combat deployment to Iraq."
Rogowskyj was deployed to Iraq on Nov. 2. His Washington attorney, Eugene R. Fidell, said the soldier's petition asks the court to require the Marine Corps "to show cause, if any there be, for [Rogowskyj's] continued custody in the Marine Corps."
Fidell said cases like Rogowskyj's, in which a soldier has an epiphany, are not uncommon. "A light has gone on for him," the lawyer said. "We would like to think that the Marine Corps would agree with us that this is a mistake, that he should be discharged."