[Editor's Note: The following open letter by
Monica Benderman was written in response to the
denial of Conscientious Objector Status for her husband, US Army Sgt.
Kevin Benderman, by his command.]
May 3, 2005
MEMORANDUM FOR: Director, Military Personnel Mgmt., Dept. of the Army, Wash. DC.
MEMORANDUM THROUGH: Installation Commander, Ft. Stewart, Georgia
SUBJECT: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
I read with interest, the response given by all of the above mentioned in my husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman’s, chain of command, with regard to his application for Conscientious Objector status. I reviewed the completed recommendation, and gave it a thorough examination before coming to the conclusion that I must respond to it in this manner. My review took exactly one minute. My interest was piqued. The net worth of YOUR time in a matter involving the rest of my husband’s life, and MINE, having made the commitment (YES, Sirs… COMMITMENT) that I did, to support him as he chose to do the right thing and follow his conscience, THE NET WORTH OF YOUR TIME in this matter was a mere one minute’s worth of reading for a message that had all the human interest of a computer generated condolence letter.
I have been involved in the process of my husband’s coming to the difficult decision that he did since long before any of you even knew his name. For the record, I believe that even at this point, that is truly all any of you do know of this man. Which leads me to this question: How exactly is it that any of you could, in GOOD CONSCIENCE, make any recommendation whatsoever on my husband’s choice of conscience, having never really taken the time to get to know him?
Col. John Kidd, Ft. Stewart Installation Command, I have heard so very many things about you from a variety of sources. Soldiers, family members, wives, and media have all given me their thoughts on the type of person that you are. There have been some favorable comments, but most claim that you lost a feeling for the humanity of the soldiers and families that have come to you for help somewhere in the seemingly difficult work that you have had to do dealing with war and its aftermath. You have never met my husband, and yet you claim to know his soul. I have no opinion of you, Sir. I couldn’t have, we have never met. I believe you do somehow respect humanity, and the choices you make are because you have had to close your heart to feeling, as so many soldiers must in these difficult times. Now that it is closed, you have trouble seeing when a soldier needs to stop soldiering to save himself, and to be what he needs to be for the family he has committed to. Family commitment, FIRST above all else, is a duty that must be served for life.
Lt. Col. Noel Nicholle, Ft. Stewart Division Rear Det. Commander, I have heard very much the same about you. I do not know you, but others have had much to tell me. I choose to withhold judgment until I have met you face to face. I am sure there is a man there who does care about humanity, and who does care about what matters most to his soldiers. I hope to one day be able to meet that man.
Major John Amadeo, Brigade Rear Det. Commander, I have heard your name. I would imagine we have crossed paths somewhere on Ft. Stewart. Would you know it if we had? Would you know how I felt if you saw me walking into your office next week? Do you know, when you hear a soldier’s name that he needs to save himself before he can save the world? And would you be the commander who cares enough about his soldier to let him do what is right? Would you make every attempt to honor that soldier by getting to know him before you judge him? OR…. Would you simply circle a word on a form letter, and pass it along, never even giving that soldier a chance? Never giving yourself a chance to know a MAN with more heart, more courage, more life than you will ever meet again. Sir… You did yourself a disservice when you never raised your eyes to get to know my husband before you judged him. I will not do the same in return. I have never met you. I cannot say, in truth, what kind of a man you are… nor can I say that I recommend disapproval of your life for having committed to continue in war.
Capt. Diogo Tavares, Company Rear Det. Command, I have seen your eyes. I trusted you, Sir, and I spoke in support of you to my husband. I saw a man who is a soldier, but who is a soldier because he cares about humanity, NOT because he understands or supports killing. I saw a man who seems to respect choices other than serving on the “killing fields,” for you continue to serve HERE, away from the conflict. You serve here, leaving work everyday to return to your family, and to golf, to laugh, to watch movies and to take long weekends, all the while telling your soldiers that they do not have the right to defend their own conscience. You deny their request to step away from killing and live as their conscience demands. You serve here, Sir, and yet you circled disapproval on a form letter denying my husband the rights that our constitution (the one all soldiers are ordered to defend) have given him, the “Right to Conscience,” the right to say that his beliefs will no longer allow him to participate in war. You are here, at a desk, in an empty office, ALIVE. I trusted you to know my husband, one of your soldiers, better than most, to know his sincerity better than most… and yet you failed. You let your soldier down, Sir. You never did know him, and now, it seems that you never will.
None of you gave my husband the chance to let him show you who he is. You signed a form letter, and circled one word. None of you dared to speak to my husband, none of you dared to face him, to look in his eyes and hear what he had to say, to know his conscience. Are you afraid? Do you, serving in Rear Detachment positions, also have thoughts of saying NO to war, of seeing a way far better than war as a solution to our problems. Did you not want to face what he might make you question within yourself? Surely, if you truly believed what you claim, you would have given him the chance that the Army regulations allow, and that you denied… and you would have let him have a reason so that he could offer his SINCERE response in defense of his actions against your reason.
Cpt. Victor Aqueche, CO Investigating Officer, I saw your eyes. I really do not believe that I saw a lie. And yet, as I read your recommendation, I was confused. You wrote that it was unbiased, and yet there was no mention of our conversations during the hearing. You wrote that you considered all facts brought to the light, and yet there was no mention of what we spoke of, and what you admitted during the hearing to having a full understanding of. Did you forget, Sir… or were you afraid to see the truth? All soldiers put away their feelings when training for war. My husband did just as he was trained to do, and closed down his humanity, and became a robotic killer, as did you. A year before the war, Kevin and I met. Three months before the war, we married. And after his deployment, he returned and we began living a life that gave him his feeling back. You see, Sir, I love my husband, and I will not let him be the robot he, and others, like yourself, had become. He didn’t want that, he doesn’t want that. Who in their right mind, with good conscience, would? BUT… we talked about this in the hearing, and you recognized then that it was a strong aspect to the change of my husband’s beliefs. We talked about his issues of stop/loss, how not re-enlisting would have been the easiest way for him to leave the military, but the military would not give him the easy way. We talked about his beliefs, how I watched him come to his decision over a period of time after he returned, how strong he is, and independent. You questioned why his thoughts had never been expressed to commanders and others around him, and I responded by telling you that he comes to his decisions on his own, and talks when he is SURE of what he has decided. You said you understood, and you accepted what we talked about. You did ME a disservice, Sir. I know this man better than anyone, and yet you did not include my testimony on my husband’s behalf in your recommendation. You spent two hours speaking with my husband, 15 minutes with me. You gave one paragraph to an alleged article that had my name on it, even after you had stated on record that any articles would not be included. You gave NOTHING to my testimony. You mentioned NOTHING about what you claimed to understand in your recommendation. You DISHONORED ME, Sir. And, you betrayed yourself in the process.
Cpt. Matt Temple, chaplain. I hesitated to type chaplain after your name, but it’s the position you serve -- rather, fill. Service, to me, would mean that you were doing the work. Sir, you failed both Sgt. Benderman and me with your lack of service to the chaplancy of the US Army. I wonder, Cpt. Temple, if you remember me? I wonder if you remember the 5 telephone calls we had from January 2004 until August 2004? I wonder if you remember the hour-long phone conversations we had, discussing how we could see a much greater vision for what the US Army could be, both for the soldiers and their families? I wonder if you remember the conversation in which you told me that you were relatively new to your position, but that in just the short time that you were there, you could see how little was really done for the families of the soldiers, and how much work there was to be done before they were given real support and their true needs were addressed? I wonder if you remember the phone call following your battalion’s time at NTC, in California? We talked about the questions we both had in regard to deployment, and war. We talked about the military and how it could be used as a tool to promote positive growth in the lives of its members, if we could just find enough others who shared our vision. Do you remember? I do. You see, that conversation made an impact, and I passed it along to my husband. I told him, finally there is one person that I was confident he could talk to who would understand. I felt that there was one person who was strong enough in his convictions that he, as a chaplain, would be there and listen as my husband addressed his concerns and tried to define the actions he must take to calm his conscience. You failed me, Sir. You failed my husband and you failed your service. I trusted you, Matt. I spoke with you from my heart, and talked to you about the true sense of my concerns with the military, in particular what it was doing to my husband. You NEVER REALLY LISTENED. Do you remember the emails, beginning in October, that you and my husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, exchanged? Do you remember, from October on, ending every email with a comment, “We have to talk about this more,” or “I would be happy to speak with you about this in person.”? Do you remember? Which is the truth, Sir, what you expressed to me, what you expressed to my husband, when offering both of us your support as the Battalion Chaplain? OR is the truth that you hide behind your commission reward plan, and you choose to fill the role of a chaplain, but never did intend to SERVE. Faith matters to me, and to my husband. Faith in myself, and in those in the service of God who tell me that they are there for those I care about as they search for the true answers to questions of their conscience. I trusted you, Matt. I had faith in you. Who should I put my faith in now, Chaplain Temple?
I know what it is like to be betrayed. Each one of you in Sgt. Kevin Benderman’s chain of command must as well. The difference is, Sgt. Benderman and I retain our integrity. We were betrayed by others than ourselves. Chaplain Temple, Cpt. Aqueche, Cpt. Tavares, Maj. Amadeo, Lt. Col. Nicholle, Col. Kidd, Brig. Gen. Byrne, commissioned officers in the US Army, for you the feeling must be far worse, a feeling I never could imagine -- YOU have betrayed one of your own soldiers, and his family. By not standing to defend what you have sworn to defend -- our Constitution -- by backing down, by hiding behind letters of form, and nothing but excuses -- YOU, Sirs, HAVE BETRAYED YOURSELVES.
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