After her family changed churches, Amy Bartell knew that her husband, Spc. Dale Bartell, would be useless in combat.
Although he went to Iraq with the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment in 2003, Bartell would have to refuse to go this time because of the Mennonite Church's emphasis on pacifism.
"We knew there would be consequences," she said.
First Bartell's pay was cut, then, two weeks ago, he pleaded guilty in court-martial to desertion. He is serving four months in a military prison in Oklahoma.
But the family's problems won't end when Bartell is released. Amy Bartell has been charged by military police with felony counts of harboring her husband and enticing him to desert. If convicted, she also could be imprisoned.
"I really feel they are harassing me," she said outside a federal courtroom in Colorado Springs last week, with her four children, aged 1 to 11, gathered nearby.
Double the objectors
Thousands of soldiers desert the Army each year, but few appear to leave under circumstances like those faced by Dale Bartell.
The vast majority of the 2,376 soldiers who deserted last year did so for financial, family or personal reasons, rather than their conscience or politics, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
Regardless, since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003, the Army has seen the number of soldiers seeking conscientious objector status more than double.
In 2002, the Army received 23 conscientious objector applications and approved 17 of them, according to Hilferty. In both 2003 and 2004, the number of applications jumped to 60, with the Army approving about half in both years.
So far this year, the Army has approved 14 of the 16 applications it has received.
While stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia in the fall of 2004, Bartell left the Pentecostal Church and joined the Mennonite Church. He sought conscientious objector status in the ensuing months, but it never came.
In April, when Bartell learned that his 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq, he refused to go.
Amy Bartell, who now is living in Cañon City with her children, said her husband had warned his commanders that he would refuse to kill anther person if placed in combat. At one point he even suggested that his rifle be filled with rock salt instead of bullets, his wife said.
But Fort Carson officials say Dale Bartell was convicted because he failed to follow orders.
"The correct thing to have done would have been to go to Iraq while his status was being handled," said Lt. Justin Journeay, a spokesman for the base.
Request brushed aside
Bill Durland, a Colorado Springs attorney for the Bartells, questioned whether the Army was doing its best to protect its soldiers by insisting that his client deploy with his unit, given the nature of his objections.
"I wouldn't want to be on the front lines with somebody who won't shoot the enemy," Durland said.
Bartell asked his superiors, psychologists and religious leaders at Fort Carson to help him push through the paperwork as early as January.
But the request appears to have been brushed aside by Army superiors.
Durland said Bartell never was given the proper forms to fill out, but was made to think that commanders were considering his status.
Hilferty said he could not confirm whether Bartell's conscientious objector application exists, citing privacy laws. But he said it generally takes enlistees three months or less from the time of application to be approved or denied by the Department of the Army.
Meanwhile, confusion surrounds the charges against Amy Bartell.
"The statute for enticing and harboring a deserter shouldn't apply to a wife," Durland said.
Moreover, it typically takes a grand jury decision to recommend a federal felony case for prosecution. In this case, the charges were levied by military police.
Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, could not comment on the unusual proceedings. He said only that his office is "aware of the case and reviewing the matter."
-- Michael de Yoanna
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