PHILADELPHIA – A Marine from New Jersey was deployed to Iraq this month despite being recommended for a military discharge by a hearing officer who agreed that he should receive conscientious objector status.
Marine Lance Cpl. John Rogowskyj Jr., of Pennsauken, is one of a handful of conscientious objectors trying to get out of the military. He has taken his case to federal court in Washington, where he is pressing for an immediate separation.
"I believe that God has given man free will," he said in legal documents. "By surrendering my will to the military, I realize that I have willfully propagated violence."
Rogowskyj, now 22, joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 2002. He was ordered to active duty the next year and submitted a request for a conscientious objector discharge this year. He described himself as a religious humanist who does not belong to any organized religion.
"I see now that I must separate from the military with all due haste, or suffer without the forgiveness of grace, for defying the truth that I see plainly before me, that violence as a means or end cannot be tolerated," said Rogowskyj.
In October, a Marine captain who served as the hearing officer recommended that Rogowskyj be discharged. Then in June, a major said he could still serve noncombat duty. But Maj. Gen. D.V. Odell Jr., commander of the Fourth Marine Division ruled in August that Rogowskyj was "theologically confused and does not reflect any officially recognized faith group."
And on Nov. 2, he deployed to Iraq.
"He's not supposed to be there (Iraq)," his lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell, told The Philadelphia Inquirer for Friday's newspapers.
The military says the number of conscientious objectors in the military is minute — about .01 percent of the nearly 500,000-member Army and a similarly small proportion of the Marine Corps.
"The nation is at war and the vast, vast majority of our soldiers serve honorably in and out of combat," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman. "Those very few soldiers who are genuine conscientious objectors are either discharged or moved to a noncombatant position."
But J.E. McNeil, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Conscience and War in Washington, said Rogowskyj's request is not as unusual as the military would make it seem.
"They only count the C.O. applications when they are done," she said. "When somebody applies, it takes 18 months."