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"One man can choose to not get back in line"
Kevin Benderman's ride

September 23, 2005 | Page 12

MONICA BENDERMAN is married to Sgt. Kevin Benderman, an active-duty soldier serving 15 months in confinement at Fort Lewis, Wash., for requesting conscientious objector status as his unit was being scheduled to redeploy to Iraq. Kevin has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. To learn more about his case, visit on the Web.

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IN AN amusement park that I used to take our kids to, there was a roller coaster ride called the "Corkscrew." It turned and twisted and even reversed itself and went backwards after the first full cycle of track was completed. We would stand in line for an hour just to have a three-minute ride, only to get back in the hour-long line and do it again.

We paid for this, and at the end of the day, I wondered why, as we left the park with heads spinning and knees trying to direct our legs straight ahead. I finally decided I didn't need that any more. It was easier just to stay away and stay focused than it was to pay $65 a piece for a day that only made me feel very confused.

On the drive home from the park, kids sleeping in the back, I would think to myself, "What exactly is it that they have created there, and why the fascination?" Why would anyone want to put themselves through that madness, and pay far more than it could ever be worth? What exactly did someone get for their money, anything of lasting value?

As far as I could see, I was twisted, confused, dizzy, weak-kneed, and at the speed of the ride, there really wasn't much pleasure to commit to memory to relive at a later date. When I finally did get my equilibrium back, it would have been easier never to have lost it, than to have paid for something I couldn't use.

The last time I was in an amusement park was about seven years ago--or did I ever really leave?

I heard an interview with a man who was addressing his observations on my husband's court martial case at Fort Stewart. The command of my husband's unit went to great lengths to manipulate evidence to give the appearance that my husband disobeyed an order and missed movement.

In actuality, my husband tried for months to get his command to acknowledge his request to file a Conscientious Objector (CO) application, and his command did everything they could to keep him from his rights--and in the process disregarded Army Regulation 600-43, which allows a soldier the right to request CO status as his beliefs about war change during his service.

The reason that this man felt that the Army had no choice but to make an example of Sgt. Benderman was that there are 23,000 soldiers who were scheduled to deploy to Iraq, and none of them wanted to go. Twenty-two-thousand nine-hundred ninety-nine went back, and one did not. Twenty-two-thousand nine-hundred ninety-nine have wives who are saying my husband went, my friends' husbands went back, why didn't this soldier go?

The correct response would have been to explain this soldier's rights as a member of a society that is now speaking boldly of spreading democracy to the world, so that those in other countries will have the freedom to live as they choose, even if they have not chosen to allow us to do this for them. Sgt. Kevin Benderman has given 10 honorable years of service to his country, defending its constitution and the rights of our citizens, more years than most of the soldiers who now complain about having to return.

The correct response would have been to defend the Army regulations as an honorable representation of how soldiers are respected in this country that applauds freedom and individuality. The straight ride would have been to support this soldier in his request, as was his right, and to show all the soldiers in service to this country that their defense of our constitution matters, that the lives they sacrifice are represented with honor in giving back to them what they have earned for themselves.

The roller coaster is reaching the top of a very long incline, and I suspect it will descend from the top far too quickly for there to be any pleasure for most to remember later. I have little doubt that most of the riders will take the descent with their eyes closed. I have watched many of the passengers as they ride to the top. They have had their eyes closed since the cars left the gate.

The story of Sgt. Kevin Benderman's case is one in a long series of abuses, not only to our military personnel, but to our country in general. We have been whipped around, turned forward and backwards, so that even as we get back in line to return for another ride, we still cannot recognize that the long, slow climb is taking us to a fall that becomes much more difficult to recover from every time we dare to go around again.

People have let themselves be taken over by technology, corporations with no humanity, greed, marketing--and all of this has removed us further from the people we should be reaching out to in all the ways that would help us remain human.

We are addicted to an illusion, a huge amusement park full of rides that do nothing except take our mind off of our humanity, our frailties, our feelings and our reality. We love the colors, the music and the rush as we are caught up in the process of moving through tunnels with holographic images of success, dreams coming true and promises of a better life.

What's worse, people are willingly paying for the right to partake of the madness, and the rides grow bigger, the price of a ticket rises every time they rejoin the line, and the world outside--life, humanity--is becoming a dark wasteland that no one will recognize when the descent is complete, and the amusement park closes as the money runs dry.

One man cannot stop the ride, but one man can choose to not get back in line. Sgt. Kevin Benderman has, and joins others he has met in the process who also have come to realize that a straight, focused path, one that is deliberate and simple, is a much quicker way to the goal--peace--and the foundation this approach brings will be lasting.

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