BAMMENTAL, Germany (Mennonite Mission Network) — J.T.* joined the military as a last resort.
After both of his parents passed away, his father in a car accident and his mother from a drug overdose, J.T. moved in with his grandparents. Mere months later, his grandmother passed away, and his grandfather died by suicide. And so with no one left, J.T joined the military at age 18. This was a decision he would later come to regret, and one that prompted him, in the midst of depression and stress, to contact the Military Counseling Network for help.
With the help of MCN, J.T. received an honorable discharge from the armed services on May 15, 2010.
In his work with the Military Counseling Network, Daniel Hershberger is usually involved with multiple cases like J.T.’s at any given time. His job is to provide information and counsel to U.S. service members who wish to receive a discharge from the military or learn more about their rights.
But in early 2010, Hershberger found himself particularly struck by J.T.’s case. Hershberger, who serves with MCN through Mennonite Mission Network, spoke with J.T. about his options.
“As I talked with J.T in person and on the phone many times, his story began to break my heart. Here was a young man who had lost all those important to him, and saw the military as his only chance to make something of his life,” Hershberger wrote. “Admittedly somewhat naive, he did not know what he was getting himself into.”
As they talked, J.T. expressed his many misgivings about the military. He didn’t like the culture within his unit, as his buddies bragged about their drug, sex and alcohol-fueled escapades, but even more so as they joked about being killers. J.T. knew that he stood for values contrary to those of the military. At target practice he found himself unable to fire at the human-shaped targets. The more it became clear what it meant to be an infantryman, the more depressed he became.
In these moments, explained Hershberger, J.T realized that he was a part of something that he could not be a part of. Even though knew he needed to get out, he didn't know what to do. It was then that he searched for help and found MCN.
At first, Hershberger and J.T. discussed his options for getting a discharge based on depression and anxiety. But as they continued to talk, J.T.’s budding conscientious objector beliefs started to surface. Hershberger and the MCN helped walk him through the process to leave the military. As part of the conscientious objection process, J.T. underwent analysis with a psychologist, and it was during this analysis that the depth of his emotional and mental issues were finally acknowledged.
“J.T.’s discharge, in the end, was not for conscientious objection,” Hershberger explained, “but this all happened through him pursuing a CO discharge, as that was the route he wanted to go. The discharge was honorable, which is really the most important part, as other discharges negatively affect benefits and future job possibilities.”
The Military Counseling Network is a nonprofit organization that provides information and counseling to members of the armed services. It is supported by a variety of churches, individuals, and other organizations, including the German Mennonite Church.
*Pseudonym used by request