WÜRZBURG, Germany (Mennonite Mission Network) – Three years, numerous trials, and 160 jail days later, combat medic Agustín Aguayo was sentenced March 6 before a court-martial in Würzburg, Germany. After six hours of testimony and debate, he was convicted of desertion and missing a troop deployment and sentenced to eight months in prison.
“It pains me to think about picking up a weapon,” Aguayo stated in his closing remarks. “You say I’m not a conscientious objector, but if I’m not, then who am I?”
Aguayo enlisted in 2002 to help fund his education. While in basic training, he realized he was participating in something he didn’t believe in. Prior to deployment in February 2004 his application for conscientious objector status was denied. During the year that he served in Tikrit, Iraq, as a combat medic, he participated in guard patrols but never with a loaded gun.
“Anyone can tell you if you are on guard duty in Iraq and refuse to load your weapon, you are either crazy or very sincere,” Michael Sharp said. Sharp is one of two counselors at the Military Counseling Network (MCN) in Germany, an organization that works with U.S. military personnel seeking conscientious objector status.
MCN was active during the first Gulf War and was reinstated in 2003 by the German Mennonite Peace Committee just before the outset of the Iraq War. The counseling network is supported by the German Mennonite Peace Committee, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Central Committee and other sponsors.
Despite numerous attempts, Aguayo was refused conscientious objector status and was scheduled to be deployed again on September 1, 2006. Instead of reporting with the rest of his regiment, he remained at home. The following day he turned himself in, but was sent home with the warning that he would go to Iraq even if they had to take him in handcuffs. That night, Aguayo escaped from a bedroom window in Schweinfurt, Germany, and went absent without leave for 24 days. Later he turned himself in at Fort Irwin, near Los Angeles, California. This began a series of federal hearings, trials and jail time that lasted until March 6, 2007.
“They knew he could be [jailed for] up to seven years while his daughters went to school, learned to drive … and all the time their dad would be in jail,” Sharp said. “Until that possibility was ruled out it was awful.”
Aguayo’s three-year struggle came to a close Tuesday evening as he was reduced in rank to private, forfeited his pay and benefits as a soldier, and was promised a bad conduct discharge at the end of his eight-month jail sentence. But, his parents, wife Helga and 11-year-old twin daughters, who were all in Würzburg for the trial, were greatly relieved to hear this. Since Aguayo has already served 160 days while awaiting his trial, he may be released in as little as 40 days.
A long day and over 15 international media interviews later Sharp said with a tired laugh, “This certainly isn’t your typical 9-5 job.” However, Sharp said that this is a field where Mennonites can take the forefront. “More than being against something, we can be for something: conscientious objection.”
He said protesting the war is important, but Mennonites can go beyond that. Military spending for the war in Iraq alone works out to a dollar a day for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Sharp suggests that for each tax dollar that goes to fund the war Mennonites can give a dollar towards peace efforts like the Military Counseling Network.
Read the related Mission Network's October 2006 news release.