September 22, 2008 – A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army to grant conscientious objector status and an honorable discharge to Pfc. Michael Barnes, a Fort Richardson-based paratrooper who said he experienced a religious awakening in Iraq two years ago that left him opposed to war in any form.
The decision by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick supersedes the Army’s decision last year to deny Barnes’ request.
Military investigators failed to provide “a basis in fact” to support their contention that Barnes is insincere in professing religious objections to war, Sedwick said, and testimony by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, fellow soldiers and Barnes himself proved the contrary.
Barnes is currently stationed in the Lower 48 and was not available for an interview.
In a statement released Monday by his lawyer, however, Barnes said he was thankful to the federal courts in Anchorage for finding that his request was based on “my sincere belief as a Christian.”
In a 16-page ruling, the judge noted evidence of how Barnes’ faith grew stronger after he arrived in Iraq in September 2006. Soldiers in his unit testified that he became increasingly withdrawn, devoting much of his spare time to reading the Bible.
“I have been trying to justify being a soldier and finding a way to do so while still being a Christian, because that is what I wanted to do since I was a kid,” Barnes wrote in his request for conscientious objector status in December 2006.
“But I can no longer justify spending my short time in this world participating in or supporting war. … I must try to save souls, not help take them. I fear not for my life, but for my soul.”
Barnes remained in Iraq with the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team through the duration of the unit’s 15-month deployment. The brigade returned to Anchorage last November.
A native of Portland, Ore., Barnes, 26, enlisted in the Army for five years in March 2005 with the stated goal of “defending freedom and helping other people in countries no one else would help.”
Six months later he transferred to Fort Richardson and began preparing for his deployment to Iraq.
While training in Anchorage and listening to the stories of soldiers returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Barnes said, he first began to question his beliefs and “whether or not I was living my life to serve the Lord.”
Married with two children, Barnes previously worked as a counselor to troubled youths in Oregon and Washington. In his request for conscientious objector status, he said he would like to return to similar work as a civilian.