- Travis' Story
(These articles, by Travis Bishop, were posted to the Ft. Hood Soldier Voices blog in May and July 2009)
Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I resisting? Refusing? It wasn’t so long ago that I deployed to Iraq in support of the war on terror. I didn’t refuse then. Like a good Soldier, I did what I was told, and I spent 14 months stationed in Baghdad. It was a quiet enough deployment, I suppose. Mortars and rockets flew over the walls with unnerving frequency, but otherwise, it felt more like a move to a different duty station than a deployment to a warzone.
I didn’t see real combat. I didn’t come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t lose friends. Mine was, in my opinion, an average deployment. Go overseas, play X-Box and read for a year, come back with money that’s gone before you remember how you spent it. We talked and laughed about it once we came back, and talked about what we would do with the money we made from our next deployment, whenever that may be.
Back home, I received a hero’s welcome. That was the first time I felt unsettled over what I had done overseas. My hand was shook, my back was patted, and every night my belly was burning, full of free alcohol. I was a veteran of a foreign war, hailed as a hero, and yet I felt…unnerved; anxious. I felt as if I had a big secret inside me that threatened to burst out of me at any moment, exposing what I really was to the rest of the world…but I couldn’t figure out what the secret was. Not for a long, long time.
I was never plagued with nightmares from the war. I was plagued with guilt. I literally felt guilty for receiving the accolades that come from redeploying as a ‘hero,’ knowing that I had not paid the price for the Army’s true definition of a hero. Here it goes:
Army Hero; noun. Soldier who has deployed overseas to a combat zone. Has participated in active combat. Has redeployed with PTSD, a bullet in their leg, and a time bomb in their head. Unable to rejoin the civilian world in a normal psychological state.
In my heart of hearts, I know I don’t fit this definition, or anything resembling it.
For a long time, my unit was set to redeploy to Iraq in August 2009. However, in February 2009, we were told there was a change of plans. Instead of Iraq, it would be Afghanistan. Instead of August, it would be the end of March, less than sixty days away. Rumor had it that, although we were told the rush was because of a Brigade Commander’s wishes, it was our Battalion Commander who requested our unit be put on the Afghanistan Troop Surge.
Once again, in good Soldier mode, I prepared to deploy. This time I was a Sergeant, and I had Soldiers to take care of, one of which my best friend. These things drove me to be well prepared. We had things to do, and not much time to do them in. I rarely gave myself time to think about what it was we were actually deploying for. When I did, I started to question everything.
Why are we going? What purpose does it serve? Nothing sat right. I began to read the Bible again. More and more I saw things like ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love thy enemy.’ These were things that went directly against the war we were in, and they were spoken by Jesus himself. Could I really deploy again, and compromise my beliefs, just because I was told to? Would I be able to live with that? What if I had to take a life, and knew that if I hadn’t deployed, I would never have been put in that situation?
I became afraid to voice my opinion, knowing that if I spoke to the wrong person, I would face persecution and ridicule. I told my best friend, who voiced the same opinions to me, but it seemed he was content to deploy, do his time, make some money, and then get out of the Army upon his return. I respected his opinion, didn’t try to talk him out of it, and let it be.
The rest of the pre-deployment phase went uneventfully. We loaded our gear, got our trucks ready, and inspected our equipment. We went to the field several times, and although my team and other teams never fully accomplished the missions we were given, Command congratulated us on a successful field mission, and said we were more than ready to deploy. I started to worry again after that.
I worried when they said I was leaving early with the cargo. I worried again when our cargo flights were suddenly ‘cancelled,’ and the main body of our unit deployed to Afghanistan before us, the ‘advanced’ party. Once again, I got the feeling that we were rushing into something before we were even close to being ready. Weeks went by, and groups of us went out on separate days, sometimes only two Soldiers at a time.
A few days before I was set to deploy, I was approached by members of an organization who told me that I had a choice. They told me that they were here to support me, and that if I really was against the war our country was currently in, I could choose not to go. All those old feelings and worries came back with a vengeance, and I began to question the war again. After a full day of thinking, the only reason I had come up with for me to go was the fact that my best friend was going too. And, in the end, I decided that, although he might hate me for it, he was better off with me not going in the long run. I had to put my needs before his, though it killed me inside, because a three year friendship is hard to come by in the Army. I hope that he can forgive me one day.
So the afternoon I was set to deploy, while everyone else was loading their gear in the van headed toward the airfield, I loaded my gear in my car, and left. It was the hardest decision I have ever made.
I plan on coming back; soon. I am not a deserter, and I wouldn’t go AWOL for months and risk ruining my chances at getting a good job later in life. I am a Patriot. I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation’s power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time…and I am prepared to live with that.
My father said, ‘Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you’ll still be shaving the same face.’
If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would have been able to look into another mirror again.
Pray for me.
So…it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my situation, and the reason is this: for several weeks there’s been no situation. I returned to my unit, turned in an application for discharge as a conscientious objector, and proceeded to wait for the C.O. application to work it’s way through the miles of red tape that is Army Bureaucracy. I consulted my lawyer every now and then if need be but otherwise, I thought it was a wait-and-see game.
I was dead wrong.
There is a process for conscientious objectors to go through to get discharged from the military as such. First, a Soldier’s Company Commander has to give his recommendation based on his opinion of the Soldier. Then, you need to be interviewed by an Army Chaplain, (The Military’s spiritual advisors / liaisons), and also by a Mental Health specialist. Then, after you’ve been interviewed to your wit’s end, there has to be a hearing concerning the validity of your claim, and then they will make a decision whether or not to allow you to be discharged as an objector.
I was aware of all this going in. And when the time came for my Chaplain’s interview, I was excited and ready. Finally, a true man of God to talk to about my situation. A kindred spirit, who hopefully could give me insight into all that I’ve been going through. This was not the case at all.
I was TOLD at 1pm that I had a 1pm meeting with the Chaplain. That should have been a sign of things to come right there. After racing frantically to his office, I was supposed to have an hour long interview, delving deep into my situation and reflecting on everything that was going on. The purpose of the interview is for the Chaplain to see whether or not I’m the real deal.
What I got instead was a 20 minute cursory conversation, throughout which Chaplain (LTC) Ronald Leininger kept checking his watch and looking at his phone. I did NOT get a full, in-depth interview. Afterward, I received his letter to my Commander. He said that in his opinion, he did not think that I was sincere. In fact, he thought that I was being coached on what to say. He also said that he thought my timing was ‘convenient.’ This coming from someone who barely listened to me, and only used my words OUT OF CONTEXT to negatively affect my claim. This will severely affect the outcome of my case.
This is supposed to be a man of God. I tell him that I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to take a human life, and he says that I’m not sincere? Who does he serve? God…or the Army?
Pray for me. -Travis
- War objector faces year in jail
(This article, by Rebecca LaFlure, was published in the Killeen Daily Herald, August 14, 2009)
A Fort Hood soldier who says fighting in a war violates his religious views faces up to a year in jail for refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop, with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, pleaded not guilty at a special court-martial Thursday to two counts of missing movement, disobeying a lawful order and going absent without leave (AWOL). If he's found guilty, Bishop also could be demoted to the lowest Army rank and given a bad-conduct discharge.
His court-martial will continue today at 9:30 a.m. at Fort Hood. He's the second Fort Hood soldier in as many weeks to be tried by a military court for his refusal to participate in a war that he believes to be immoral and illegal.
"I'm objecting to the U.S.'s current occupation in the Middle East, and I'm objecting on religious grounds," Bishop said during an interview in June.
"I started reading the Bible more when I knew I was going to Afghanistan. The more I read about loving thy enemy and turning the other cheek, the more I realized that there's nothing holy about this. … It was a moment of clarity."
Bishop, 25, who previously served a year in Iraq, was initially scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan on May 18, but did not because of an alleged back injury he sustained when he fell down a flight of stairs carrying his luggage. He was sent to an emergency room where he received pain medication.
Bishop's defense claimed he was physically unable to deploy that day because of his injury. He missed his flight because he was in the emergency room. However, Capt. Sharon Denson, a physician assistant who examined him that day, testified that she did not see any physical injuries.
"In my professional opinion, he was fit to deploy," she said at Thursday's court-martial.
Bishop was then rescheduled to deploy on May 20, but instead went AWOL. He turned himself in to his unit a week later.
James Branum, Bishop's defense attorney, said Bishop had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for conscientious objector status until just days before he was scheduled to deploy. A conscientious objector is someone who refuses to participate in combat based on religious or ethical grounds, and can be given an honorable discharge by the military.
"Never was he told about his option of conscientious objector status. … If an enlisted soldier isn't informed that he has a right, then he effectively does not have that right," Branum said during the nearly five-hour military hearing Thursday.
"Just one to two days before he was set to deploy, in the midst of moral questions, he heard about CO status."
Branum said CO status is difficult to file, and often takes weeks to do. Bishop decided to leave his unit to draft an application. A week later, he filed for CO status, which is still pending.
Bishop's defense called two witnesses to the stand. Both are active-duty Fort Hood soldiers who claim they too were never informed that filing for CO status was an option.
Pfc. Anthony Sadoski, who's been in the Army for eight years, said he'd never heard of conscientious objectors until Bishop told him.
Bishop did not take the stand in his own defense.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," Capt. Matt Kuskie, the prosecuting attorney, argued after the defense made its case.
Maj. Matthew McDonald, who served as the judge, said whether or not Bishop was notified about his right to file for CO status is not relevant to this case.
"If every soldier in the Army who disobeyed an order could claim it was because they weren't notified of conscientious objector status, we probably wouldn't have a military any more," he said.
Both sides will give their closing statements this morning, and if found guilty, Bishop's sentencing would begin.
Protesters from all over Texas are expected to rally in support of Bishop outside Fort Hood's East Gate tonight if he's sent to jail.
On Aug. 5, Victor Agosto, also in the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to a month in jail and stripped of his Army rank for refusing orders to prepare to deploy.
Agosto said the wars in the Middle East are "immoral and unjust," and a violation of international law. Agosto did not file for CO status because he only objects to certain wars. He's now serving his sentence at Bell County Jail.
Protesters plan to be outside the Bell County Criminal Justice Complex, at Loop 121 and Huey Drive in Belton, from 1 to 2 p.m. every Saturday while Agosto is incarcerated.
- Another Soldier Refuses Afghanistan Deployment
(This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted to Truthout, August 12, 2009.)
Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 3rd Signal Brigade, faces a court-martial this Friday for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Bishop is the second soldier from Fort Hood in as may weeks to be tried by the military for his stand against an occupation he believes is "illegal." He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on both moral and legal grounds and he has filed for conscientious objector (CO) status.
Spc. Victor Agosto was court-martialed last week for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Agosto's lawyer, James Branum, who is also Bishop's lawyer, is the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force. Branum told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a "justified" war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US Constitution and international law.
"Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics," Branum explained, "It's his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremberg Principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by the US is now the 'supreme law of the land.' So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well."
Bishop told Truthout he was inspired by Agosto's stand and had chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal. Both his time in Iraq, the illegality of the occupation and a moral awakening led to his decision to refuse to deploy.
"I started to see a big difference between our reality there and what was in the news," Bishop explained to Truthout about his experience in Iraq, but went on to add that morality and religion played a role as well.
When he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, Bishop said, "I started reading my Bible to get right with my creator before going. Through my reading I realized all this goes against what Jesus taught and what all true Christians should believe. I had a religious transformation, and realized that all war is wrong."
Bishop received his orders to deploy to Afghanistan in February, but at the time "didn't know there was a support network or a way out at all. I thought GI resistance was something archaic from Vietnam."
As his deployment date approached, he met with other soldiers at a GI resistance cafe, "Under the Hood", in Killeen, Texas.
"They told me not only do I have a choice, but I have a support network backing me up," Bishop explained, "I told them my thinking, and they said that I sounded like a CO. They put me in touch with (James) Branum and when I learned from him what a CO was, I knew I couldn't go."
Bishop went absent without leave (AWOL) for one week the day his unit deployed, "because I didn't have time to prepare to file for CO status. So while AWOL I prepared a statement and filled out my application for CO (status). Then I went back (to Fort Hood) with Branum and turned myself in. I never planned on staying AWOL. They gave me a barracks room and assigned me to a platoon and told me to show up to work the next day. That was it. They started the CO process, but they also started the Uniform Code of Military Justice process, and that's where it gets shifty."
Shortly thereafter, the military charged him with two counts of missing movement and disobeying a direct order.
Bishop, Agosto, and other resisters are not alone. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80 percent increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion rates jumped by 42 percent from 2006 to 2007 alone.
Bishop informed Truthout that morale is low among his peers in the military, whether they are pro-war or opposed to the occupations.
"Hard Corps folks, as soon as they hear about my sentence being capped at a year, they are changing their minds already," he said, "There's a lot of soldiers that go just because they feel they have to go. They are driven by money and legal obligation, not patriotism. They go because they don't want to lose their job and get in trouble. A lot of the people I talk to that are in, they feel as I do, but they say things like 'I only have four more months, so I'll ride it out and hope not to get stop-lossed.'"
Spc. Michael Kern, an active duty veteran of the occupation of Iraq (where he served from March 2007 to March 2008), is also based at Fort Hood. He is currently getting treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Kern turned against both occupations, as he told Truthout, "Once I realized it wasn't a war and was an occupation, and once I realized I was a terrorist to people in Iraq. It wasn't a hard decision. My whole unit feels as I do, but are afraid to speak out because they don't know there is support for those of us who speak out against the war."
Kern, like Bishop, says that troop morale is very low.
"I'd say it's at an all-time low - mostly because of Afghanistan now. Nobody knows why we are at either place, and I believe the troops need to know why they are there, or we should pull out, and this is a unanimous feeling, even for folks who are pro-war."
Kern feels that the decisions of Agosto and Bishop to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan is worthy of admiration and support.
"I admire these guys," he told Truthout, "They are truly amazing. I wish I would have done that, but when I deployed I didn't know what I was getting into, or my options. I look up to these guys. They are standing up for what they believe in, and that's the greatest thing any of us can do, and they are doing it despite what the Army is doing to them."
Kern suggests that soldiers "do your research before you willingly follow orders, because this is an unjust war, and according to Army regulations, you are entitled to question an illegal order, such as deploying to an illegal war not sanctioned by the UN. And that there is a large community of support for those who are standing up. And it's all over the world, not just the US, wherever you are, there are people who feel the same way you do."
In England, Lance Cpl. Joe Glenton, from the Royal Logistics Corps, has become the first British soldier to speak out publicly against the war in Afghanistan.
Glenton delivered a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on 30 July stating why he is refusing to return to Afghanistan.
Glenton wrote: "The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there. I do not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right. I implore you, Sir, to bring our soldiers home."
Glenton, like Agosto, and soon for Bishop, began his court-martial proceedings on 3 August.
US commanders recently announced that US and NATO troop deaths from Afghan bombings spiked six-fold in July, compared to the same month last year. In July, resistance fighters detonated the highest number of bombs against occupation forces in the eight-year occupation, according to figures released Tuesday. More US troops were killed in July in Afghanistan than any other month of the entire occupation, and violence continues.
Meanwhile, Anthony Cordesman, a senior adviser to the US military commander in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told The Times of London that an additional 45,000 US troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Bishop hopes his refusal to deploy will inspire soldiers to search their consciences.
"My hope is that people who feel like me, that they don't have a voice and are having doubts, I hope that this shows them that not only can you talk to someone about this, but that you actually have a choice," he said.
"Choice is the first thing they take away from you in the military," Bishop added, "You're taught that you don't have a choice. That's not true. And not wanting to kill someone or get killed does not make you a coward. I hope my actions show this to more people."
- Travis Bishop Speaks After His Court Martial
- Travis Bishop's Prison Blog
August 20, 2009
First off, hello to all those who still support me! Your support, kind words, and well-wishings have truly kept me going through this difficult time.
I want to assure everyone, well-wishers and nay-sayers, that I am still 100% confident that my decision was a smart one. Though I suffer a harsh personal loss, the gain for this movement is incredible. Already I have heard of others who have been influenced by mine and Victor’s decisions and actions, and it warms my heart.
Ultimately, the goal is to end these wars. And keeping that in mind, remember that my decisions are mine and mine alone. My hope is that others learn from mine and Victor’s sacrifices. They are small when compared to the ultimate gain.
To my supporters, Thank You and write me right now while I’m in Bell County even!
To those who think I was coerced, influenced or made to do this, please write me to. I would love to personally explain how I feel.
You can write Travis at: Travis Bishop, Bell County Jail, 113 W. Central Ave., Belton, TX 76513
August 21, 2009
To everyone who still cares:
I can not say that a year in prison doesn’t scare me: I am terrified. I just cried in the bathroom so no one could see.
But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish had I not gone to prison.
Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you.
Victor and myself are starting something big . . . and it is now up to all of you to continue on.
With all of my heart,