War is over for everyone but conscientious objectors System grinds slowly for soldiers who decide they won't kill and seek to be discharged. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

March 28, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

In a small, cramped apartment in a West Baltimore housing project, Abigal Wallace wonders what will happen to American patriotism now that the Persian Gulf war has stopped.

"If the American people are so patriotic," she asks, "will they give my brothers a job?"

Wallace is a National Guard conscientious objector with a sharply etched black consciousness. She's talking about the black military man.

"Will you let him live next door to you? Will you let him marry your child?"

Her outfit was never called up. But war made her search her conscience. Wallace grew up in the Holiness church, close to her deeply religious mother.

"Basically, I started to reaffirm my belief in God and the feeling that killing people is wrong," she says. "How can you go over and kill Iraqis, then say you feel bad about black people killing black people here in America?"

She applied for conscientious objector status. And now she's waiting for the process to unwind, like most other service people who declared themselves COs during the gulf war.

Action in the war they found objectionable was halted Feb. 27 by order of President Bush. But their applications grind on through a military bureaucratic process they find excruciatingly slow. Many might have been released sooner if they had never filed a CO application.

It's not clear how many people have been granted CO discharges since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Maybe only one, say counselors in the conscientious objector network. Figures offered by military public affairs officers and CO counselors vary widely and contrast dramatically.

Pentagon information people say that objector applications did not increase substantially during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

The Marine Corps, for example, says that just 22 people became COs from August through the end of February. Of the 15 cases filed since January, the Marines say, 10 are pending, three were approved and two denied. In all of 1990, 21 applications were approved and 15 denied.

Between Aug. 2 and March 5, the Air Force recorded requests for CO status from 16 active-duty people. Thirteen were approved, one disapproved and two are pending.

By Feb. 15, the Navy says, 10 applications out of 16 filed during the gulf war were approved, one denied. The rest are someplace in the labyrinthine military system.

The Army lists 30 applications from the beginning of the year through the third week of February, with no outcomes available.

All the services say a conscientious objector request takes 60 to 90 days to process. Counselors say it often takes much longer. They also contend that the military greatly underestimates the number of people who have asked for CO discharges.

Counselors across the country surveyed by the War Resisters League said more than 1,500 active and reserve military people had filed for objector status by the second week in February.

Military CO figures generally omit people who have gone AWOL, missed a movement or who have violated some provision of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Resolution of their charges usually takes precedence over CO applications. COs say they feel pressured to take "other than honorable" discharges to clear these charges, rather than honorable conscientious objector discharges.

A Pentagon spokesman said, for example, that there were about 1,200 AWOLs during February, and that is not unusual. The AWOL rate, he said, remains steady at about 1,200 a month.

Jean-Claude Rainey, a Roman Catholic who grew up in Clinton in Prince George's County, is a 21-year-old Marine conscientious objector who went AWOL in February after being court-martialed for refusing to deploy to the Persian Gulf.

He surfaced at a Baptist church in Anacostia, in Washington, D.C., then turned himself in at the Anacostia Naval Station. He's now at Camp LeJeune, N.C., waiting in a kind of limbo for action on both his legal case and his objector application. He says there are 20 COs at LeJeune alone.

Rainey's a reservist from a family with a remarkable record of military service. His mother and father both served in the Army during the Korean War. His father became a career soldier who served 20 years before retirement.

Three uncles racked up 30 years each in the Air Force, Army and Navy. One was a combat veteran in Korea, another in Vietnam. Rainey's three brothers served a total of 15 years of active and reserve duty in the Army and Navy.

The family generally supports Jean-Claude, says his brother, Wayne, who was five years in the Navy.

"All my family and myself went into the military for jobs and education," says Wayne Rainey, who is now a graphic designer. "A black person who was in the military out of patriotism? I never met anyone like that."

Jean-Claude Rainey was charged with promoting disloyalty for saying pretty much the same thing. The charge was dismissed.

Rainey began to question his place in the military during boot camp.

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