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Iraq war veteran seeks discharge as conscientious objector

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — An Iraq war veteran assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division is seeking a discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector, arguing that his religious convictions have evolved in such a way that he can no longer take up arms.

Although Sgt. Yovany Rivero declined to speak with Stars and Stripes about his case, Rivero provided a statement to the Rheinland-Pfalz Peace Advocacy Group in which he expressed his opposition to violence. Rivero, who is stationed at the U.S. Army Garrison in Baumholder, was awarded a peace prize by the German organization during a ceremony last month in Bad Neuenahr during the annual Rheinland-Pfalz Days state fair.

"The thought that we use our rifles to solve out problems, I can neither accept nor support," Rivero wrote in a statement to the peace group.

Michael Sharp, who works closely with Rivero as an adviser with the Germany-based Military Counseling Network, said the soldier wants to keep a low profile and isn’t looking to bring attention to his case. In particular, Rivero doesn’t want his fellow soldiers, whom he respects, to misinterpret his position as a sign of disrespect, Sharp said.

Though Sharp also declined to discuss Rivero’s case in detail, citing Rivero’s desire to avoid publicity, MCN has been working closely with numerous soldiers since the start of the Iraq war.

Perhaps the best-known case connected with MCN was that of Agustin Aguayo, a combat medic who was found guilty in 2007 of deserting the Schweinfurt, Germany-based 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division as it prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2006. Aguayo returned to California last year after serving a brief prison sentence. Others, however, have found their conscientious objector claims supported: In 2006, seven soldiers who worked with MCN had their requests approved.

To receive a discharge as a conscientious objector, a soldier must hold a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to participating in war of any form or the bearing of arms," according to Department of Defense regulations.

The process can be lengthy, taking up to a year and requiring extensive written statements by a soldier explaining why he or she can no longer fight. Interviews with chaplains, psychiatrists and reviews by at least three commanders are part of the process.

Generally, applicants "will be retained in their unit and assigned duties providing minimum practicable conflict with their asserted beliefs, pending a final decision on their applications. Reassignment orders received after the submission of an application will be delayed until the approval authority makes a determination," Army regulations state.

While Rivero’s unit is currently in Iraq, serving a 15-month deployment that started in April, Rivero remains in Baumholder.

A U.S. Army Europe spokesman said the Army couldn’t confirm information on Rivero because acknowledging whether a soldier has submitted a request would violate that soldier’s right to privacy.

Rivero, who enlisted in the Army in 2001 when he was 18, served two tours in Iraq, according to a German newspaper report on Rivero’s peace award.

"I joined the Army with the idea that I was doing the right thing in serving my country," Rivero in MCN’s June newsletter. "The church I went to then believed that I could serve both God and country in the military."

Squaring his religious beliefs with military service became more difficult as time went on, however.

During block leave in 2007, Rivero took part in a Mennonite camp in Pennsylvania and was "transformed by discussions of ultimate Christian allegiance and Christ’s call to be peacemakers," according to the newsletter.


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