An openly gay marine reservist planned to turn himself in to military authorities Tuesday and file paperwork declaring himself a conscientious objector, just weeks after he was called up to active duty. "Ultimately, it's my fault for joining in the first place," said 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk, who didn't show up when his unit was deployed to Camp Pendleton. "It wasn't as well thought out as it should've been. It was about me being depressed and wanting direction in life."
Funk enlisted in February 2002, when he was 19 and living on his own. "I saw the valuable things you can learn, like teamwork, leadership--things you can learn in Boy Scouts," he said. "I saw it as a way to learn new things and meet new people. It was a way to get what I thought was missing in my life." He says he caved in to pressure from a recruiter who capitalized on his vulnerability. "They don't really advertise that they kill people," Funk said. "I didn't really realize the full implications of what I was doing and what it really meant to be in the service as a reservist."
Funk said he began doubting his fitness for military service during basic training at Camp Pendleton last spring, when he felt uncomfortable singing cadence calls describing violence and screaming "Kill, kill, kill" during weapons training. "I was unwilling to do that. It just felt very wrong," he said. "I started just to mouth the words so I wouldn't get in trouble."
Funk, whose father served in the Navy in Vietnam, said he expressed his misgivings to several chaplains, who he said never counseled him about the possibility of a conscientious objector discharge. "I didn't ask for a way out, but I told them about it," he said. "I told them I'm having nightmares about what this is going to do for my conscience."
Funk acknowledges his sexual orientation in his conscientious objector statement: "My moral development has also been largely effected by the fact that I'm homosexual. I believe that as a gay man, someone who is misunderstood by much of the general population, I have a great deal of experience with hatred and oppression. When someone is thrust into a situation of hate and oppression because of factors they have no control over, I believe they either react with hatred back, because they've experienced it, or they learn not to be that way towards others. I have adopted the latter reaction and stand with the oppressed people of the world who know that hate and oppression do not solve any problems. I was raised to respect, not hate, others who are different than me. I was appalled by the amount of hatred I found in the military. Of course I couldn't 'come out' in boot camp, but everyone pretty much knew that I was gay, and many hated me for it. The military cultivates antigay sentiment among its enlisted, but I also believe it perpetuates feelings of hatred against all that are different either culturally, ethnically, or otherwise. I think that is the way the military dehumanizes the enemy (whomever that may be) so that its members won't be averse to killing them. Coming to that realization about war disgusted me and made me completely opposed to military action."
Those applying for status as a conscientious objector must submit a detailed letter explaining how their feelings have changed since joining the military. Then there are interviews with a military chaplain, a psychiatrist, and an investigating officer. The final decision is made by top military commanders. Because Funk didn't report for active duty when his reserve unit was called up in mid February, he will likely receive nonjudicial punishment, typically 30 days' desk duty, his lawyer, Stephen Collier, said Monday.
Meanwhile, Funk says, he's attended every major San Francisco Bay area antiwar rally since finishing his military training last fall. And while he acknowledged that he was surprised to get called up to active duty so quickly, Funk insists his decision has nothing to do with the current war in Iraq. "I would be applying for this anyway," he said. "I believe a lot of those people going over there are going to have psychological problems and guilt. I can serve time for being a conscientious objector...or I can go along and do something that I know is wrong and live with that forever."