weilbacher-250dBy Bob Meola, Courage to Resist. September 17, 2015

“Moral injury is a real thing. I was being forced to participate in an organization that I had a moral and ethical dilemma against … Yet the Army was hell-bent on sending a statement to other potential objectors that you should not apply for this as it will cost you a lot mentally and physically. I want to tell you to stand up against this system of injustice and immorality. If we are silent, we are complicit.”

Robert Weilbacher is a free man, enjoying his new life as a civilian peace activist. He, the ACLU, and Courage to Resist have declared a victory for the cause of Conscientious Objection. Robert received an Administrative Honorable Discharge from the Army, rather than the discharge as a Conscientious Objector that he applied for, was granted, and had rescinded by the Army, earlier this year [see here and here].

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Army after the Army acted against its own regulations when a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army countermanded the lawful decision of the Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board [DACORB]. The DACORB granted Weilbacher an Honorable Discharge as a C.O. in December of 2014. The Deputy Assistant Secretary overruled the decision with no basis in fact.

Rather than address the merits of the lawsuit, the Army chose to make a jurisdictional argument. At the time of the filing of the lawsuit, Robert was on 30 days of leave and between duty stations. He had left Korea and not yet arrived at his next duty station, Fort Campbell, located between Kentucky and Tennessee. The Army considers that Robert was still technically attached to Korea, both when he applied for C.O. status and when his habeas petition was filed by the ACLU. However, the Army acted counter to the regulation again – and argued that Weilbacher was officially a member of Fort Campbell when he signed out of Korea on leave.

Since the Army had a case too difficult or impossible to defend on its merits, it used a stall tactic and eventually granted Robert an Administrative Honorable Discharge. Because of that, Robert’s lawsuit is now moot and closed.

Robert told me, “This case and two year battle has without a doubt affected me. Moral injury is a real thing. I was being forced to participate in an organization that I had a moral and ethical dilemma against. I was no longer an asset to the Army – no longer working as a Medic. Yet the Army was hell-bent on sending a statement to other potential objectors that you should not apply for this as it will cost you a lot mentally and physically. I want to tell you to stand up against this system of injustice and immorality. If we are silent, we are complicit.”

He also said, “Fort Campbell leadership treated me with respect – something that ceased to exist while I was in Korea. There are great people in the Army who believe in treating people the right way. The 1SG who in-processed me to Fort Campbell was one of the nicest people I met during my time in the military. He remarked, ‘You kept your beliefs strong, didn’t take the easy way out and finally the end is in sight. As I told you before, we don’t agree on the CO. But I respect you much for standing up by your principles.’

“My Commander was extremely fair and understood my difficulties as a Conscientious Objector and did not make me participate in duties that would conflict significantly with my beliefs. The 1SG was fair and my direct leader, an E-7 SFC looked out for me. They could see my conviction and the stress that I endured as a result of the last command.

“During my time at Fort Campbell, I had a panic attack and I went to the E.R. I thought I was having a heart attack. It was a panic attack due to increased levels of anxiety,” due to still being in the military every day and no longer believing in the military.

“My NCO (the E-7 SFC) told me I was a great soldier and a great person and he wished I would stay in the Army. He was good to me, although, he didn’t fully understand the full extent of objection. I asked my leader several times, who spoke about God frequently, after converting to Christianity recently – how God would view his participation in an organization that routinely snuffs the lives of innocent people. He agreed. We cannot set a double standard on terrorism – we don’t appreciate terrorism because it destroys innocent lives, but we as Americans, always have a justification to others that we kill, specifically innocent lives, due to drone strikes, etc. How can you tell someone’s mother, father, son, or daughter that you accidentally killed their loved one because of a suspected terrorist target in a building that they just happened to be in? You can’t. Every time we kill an innocent person, we create a person who has justified animosity towards America. This is turn, creates an epidemic of violence that makes Americans less safe.

“There are good people within the military. Ultimately, it is about the Army following its own regulations and not picking and choosing which ones to follow. If the Army doesn’t like Conscientious Objection – as they have a history of violating regulation with this particular issue, then get rid of it. The Army knows people will object – just because it’s a volunteer Army, doesn’t mean you can’t change through your experiences. Everyone always throws the same line of, ‘Why did you join if you’re against war?’ I joined because I listened to the glorification of military service that our country spews on a daily basis. We are brainwashed from the very beginning to put our right hand to our heart and pledge allegiance to the flag. We have put more value in a material possession than on human lives. You don’t get the truth of what the military involves and they surely don’t communicate the amount of innocent people you kill by being a part of the military. I was vulnerable and wanted to serve my country and help people. Please don’t be upset with me for using the regulation that supported how I felt after I joined and woke up – the Army has it for a reason. They know it happens.”

Robert told me, “I am no longer subject to the moral and ethical dilemma I was facing, being in the military. We don’t need to prove to the army that I am a C.O. I already did that and was slated for honorable discharge as a C.O. Now I can move on with my life and live by my values. I do not regret joining the Army – I learned who I was and what I stand for and I was able to observe the truth of military service. I love every military person with all my heart. We go through experiences in life that wake us up to our true calling and my life is not one of military service. I served honorably and didn’t take an easy way out – you may very well disagree with my core beliefs, but that’s what makes this world great. But respect the fact that I didn’t run from my beliefs, go AWOL, get in trouble, etc.

Veterans for Peace Convention: San Diego

VFP convention

Courage to Resist’s Project Director Jeff Paterson (left) and Robert Weilbacher at the VFP National Convention in San Diego, August 2015.

“Jeff Paterson, of Courage to Resist, offered me the opportunity to be a featured speaker, along with Jake Bridge (A Marine Corps Officer Conscientious Objector), in the Courage to Resist workshop on Chelsea Manning and GI Resistance, at the Veterans for Peace National Convention, just held, in San Diego in August. I was still in the military when I attended the convention. I requested leave to attend the convention, saying it was a peace convention, and the command allowed me to go on leave so I could attend.

“Courage to Resist flew me to the convention and paid my expenses. It was the opportunity of a life time for me. It was a chance to meet with other resisters and like-minded people—resisters from the Vietnam era and post 9/11.

“A lot of the people who supported me while I was overseas were at the convention and I got to thank them, personally, for their support—including Jeff Paterson. His support and the support of all of the donors to my case gave the ACLU the appropriate ability to put significant pressure on the Army to release me. I don’t think he receives enough praise for the work that he does for war resisters. Camillo Mejia was there. I’d spoken with him on social media, while I was overseas and he provided me moral support. Now that I have met him, we have bonded and increased our friendship. We talk often now. Kevin Benderman was not able to make it. I’d communicated with him on social media, too. There were others too. I got to meet them. It was helpful to attend.   I received a lifetime membership—a $1,000 donation from a man named Paul Appell—so that I could get a lifetime membership in Veterans for Peace. I am very thankful for his donation and faith in my ability to make progress with the peace movement. I plan to start up a Columbus, Ohio Chapter of VFP as founder and President of it.”

Robert said, “One thing I think I bring to the peace movement is a mindset of bridging the divide between just-war and anti-war activists. We can’t condemn or hate others for their beliefs, but must show them compassion and respect for their beliefs so we can build a discussion and foundation. It reminds me of a church pastor who held up signs condemning homosexuality. He had a sign claiming they are going to hell. I told him that he won’t bring people to his church that disagreed with that notion – he was only bringing people to his church that agreed with his notions – thereby wasting his efforts. We need people that don’t agree with our notions of being anti-war to have dialogue with us and it starts with a friendship.”

“I am very thankful to Courage to Resist for getting me to the VFP Convention in San Diego and for all of its support of me before that.

“I am also thankful for the help I received from Maria Santelli and Bill Galvin at the Center on Conscience and War.”

Robert plans on attending university for his Master’s of Arts in Political Science, with a focus on International Relations, minoring in War and Peace studies.

Courage to Resist congratulates Robert Weilbacher and we look forward to his participation in efforts toward peace.