On Friday, January 7, 2005 Sergeant Kevin Benderman, stationed with the 2-7 Infantry Battalion at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, refused an order from the Command Sergeant Major of his unit Samuel Coston to deploy to Iraq and requested a General Courts-Martial.
Benderman, 40 is a combat veteran, having served one tour in Iraq in 2003 during which a Captain in his command ordered soldiers from Benderman's outfit to fire on children throwing rocks at unit personnel. Having personally witnessed this and other illegal acts by military personnel during his tour, Benderman now says that under no circumstances will he participate further in the war in Iraq, a war Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan has labeled "illegal".
|Benderman Case sparks media feeding-frenzy as Army desperately initiates damage control measures.|
Benderman has applied for Conscientious Objector status. His commanders have not yet acted on his request, as required by Army regulations.
In further developments this weekend, it has been confirmed that Specialist J.R. Burt and Specialist David Beals, also of 2-7 attempted suicide rather than deploy to Iraq, and an additional seventeen soldiers in 2-7 Infantry Battalion have gone AWOL for the same reason. Army sources who have been granted anonymity because they feared retaliation stated that both Burt and Beals are being harassed and mistreated on the Psychiatric Ward of Winn Army Hospital by unit commanders and a civilian, Dr. Capp who in apparent violation of state law is reported as informing them of the harsh punishments they may expect should they refuse deployment. In addition, SFC Johnson, 2-7 platoon sergeant for Spec. Beals reportedly told him recently "...when I get you to Iraq, I'm going to get you killed," in the presence of several witnesses who say this incident was a catalyst in Beals' attempted suicide.
Winn Army Hospital Public Affairs Officer Laurie Kemp refused to even confirm that the two Specialists had been admitted to the hospital.
The 2-7 Chaplain, Captain Matt Temple in a letter addressed to Benderman today stated that: "It is unfortunate that you have chosen the course of action you have taken. You should have had the moral fortitude to deploy with us and see me here in Kuwait to begin your CO application. To expect me to complete an interview with you within 48 hours of a major deployment was unreasonable and quite inconsiderate of my own time. I would have gladly helped you once we got here. As an NCO in the US ARMY, I expected a greater display of maturity from you. Furthermore, for you to have media personnel contacting me at my personal email address without first acquiring my permission was very unprofessional of you. You should be ashamed of the way you have conducted yourself. I certainly am ashamed of you. I hope you will see your misconduct as an opportunity to upgrade your character and moral behavior for your own good and the good of your fellowman." Benderman said the letter disgusted him, stating "Nothing in my career as a professional soldier has prepared me to respond to something like that letter from the Chaplain."
Benderman's congressional representative, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has written a letter to his Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Todd Wood expressing her concern for Benderman's rights and suggesting that Wood designate him as non-deployable to Iraq.
Support for Sergeant Benderman has been overwhelming, says his wife, Monica. "We are being swamped for interview requests by the media," she said on Monday.
Benderman has also garnered the support of an American icon and war hero, Colonel James "Bo" Gritz, USA (Ret.), who profiled Benderman for three days running on his radio show "Freedom Call". Gritz has labeled previous charges by the Army in connection with Benderman's refusal to deploy and statements to the press "ridiculous," savaging the officers of 2-7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush on the air while calling Benderman "a hero" and his immediate superiors "weenies." One of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. Army history, Gritz led the only raid on a prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam War at Son Tay, North Vietnam.
On Monday afternoon, Benderman says he is still in the dark as to what the Army plans for him. "I have learned nothing from anyone in my chain of command informing me on the disposition of my case, despite my attempts to communicate with them. Perhaps tomorrow," he said.
Telephone calls to 2-7 Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Kent and the Pentagon requesting comment on Benderman, Burt, Beals and the additional 2-7 AWOL cases were unanswered by press time.
Southeast Asia News Managing Editor Robert S. Finnegan is an internationally published investigative reporter and former Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officer. Working most recently as a Senior Editor and lead investigator on the Bali Bombings for The Jakarta Post, he may be reached at [email protected].