When John D.* presented his conscientious objection claim to his commanding officer in spring 2003, he had gone through months of emotional turmoil, psychological distress and serious thinking. His dad had given him a hard time. His stepmother thought that John D.* was "a disgrace" to the family. John D.* had been deployed from Germany to Kuwait and the war on Iraq had already begun.
At present, more than ten months later, John D.* is still in Iraq and the war has turned into an occupation; for the young GI, however, the situation has changed significantly: his conscientious objection – claim is with the Department of the Army in Washington D.C, ready to be given approval.
"I got an e-mail from him letting me know that he is still waiting," said David Stutzman, the coordinator of the Military Counseling Network in Bammental. "He is scheduled to return to Germany at the end of February. We both are wondering if the army is just dragging everything out to make him finish his term of service."
David Stutzman, a rather good-looking and humorous guy, studied Peace Studies at the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. He came over to Germany to do voluntary work with the German Mennonite Peace Committee in Bammental in summer 2002. In December 2002, however, when unfolding events in the run-up to the war on Iraq gained momentum, David Stutzman suddenly saw himself presented with a fait accompli: he was an American in Germany — and he was the only native speaker around.
"When the first calls from GIs were coming in, there was nobody there to talk to them. Everybody just looked at me. I am American. I can talk to these guys. "
In the mean time David Stutzman has become the coordinator of the only military counseling network in Germany — the largest US military base in Europe.
The Military Counseling Network (MCN) is an inter-organizational, all- volunteer project of the German Peace Movement, the German Mennonite Peace Committee, the anti-militarist peace initiative Connection e.V., the Campaign Against The Draft and the Stop The War Brigades. It offers free counseling about GI Rights, discharges, conscientious objection and getting out to GIs stationed in Germany and works in cooperation with the Central Committee For Conscientious Objection (CCCO) in Oakland, Ca and the inter-organizational GI Rights Hotline.
During the first Gulf War MCN’s office in Bammental received hundreds of calls from GIs wanting out and needing legal advice. In 1994, when demand for military counseling was low, the network ceased operating. It resumed working in December 2002; then the number of calls was still small.
"Before the war, three GIs called. One of them was a guy who had been AWOL for twenty-five years," said David Stutzman. "In the last six months about 60 GIs called. Last week alone, there have been five."
MCN is the only military counseling network for about 70.000 soldiers currently stationed in Germany and about 15.000 to 20.000 GIs who have been deployed from Germany to Iraq and the Middle East. The office in Bammental, a small town near Heidelberg, coordinates a small but vigilant task force of military counselors located in different regions throughout Germany.
"Calls are coming in from within Germany or Iraq. Sometimes it’s family members or girlfriends calling us, " said David Stutzman who arranged a workshop on GI rights with Teresa Panepinto, the program director of the GI Rights Hotline, in Germany in March 2003.
At present MCN is working on conscientious objection claims of seven GIs who have contacted MCN over the last two months. Two of the seven soldiers, both conscientious objectors for Christian religious reasons, are to be deployed to Iraq within the next two weeks. As of today it is not clear whether the two GIs in Germany will be deployed to the Middle East or not.
Further three GIs are thoroughly considering filing a claim for conscientious objector status.
With the volatile situation in Iraq to continue and a long-term US American military presence in Iraq and the Middle East to be very likely, MCN fears "a grind down" of US military personnel and expects more calls from GIs wanting out in the next couple of months.
"There is a sense of duty, but no high morale. It’s an occupation. It’s hot. There are daily attacks," said David Stutzman. "They are not trained to do policing. They are away from family. They don’t know when they are coming back. They don’t want to be killed."
David Stutzman is expected to return to the US in spring. He is determined to raise the funding for an extension of his stay.
While the Department of Defense has recently articulated its ambition to cut the number of American forces stationed in Germany in half, approximately 50.000 GIs are expected to stay in Germany.
In recent weeks the US military has started to fence off — e.g. in Idar-Oberstein — the US military housing from local German communities. While GIs still get invited over e.g. for Christmas, unease about the American presence is growing in German local communities. Business people are outraged about the US flying in building materials from the homeland instead of subcontracting German enterprises. There is also growing concern about culturally insensitive behavioral patterns of GIs towards German women and girls, at times leaving the women and girls no other choice than taking male ‘bodyguards’ on board when going out to local pubs and discothÃ¨ques.
"It’s time for them to go" is the bottom-line of many Germans in communities where Germans and GIs have lived together for over 50 years these days.