updated 7/28/2005 4:47:52 PM ET 2005-07-28T20:47:52

An Army mechanic who refused to go to Iraq while he sought conscientious objector status was acquitted of desertion but found guilty of a lesser charge during a court-martial Thursday.

Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on the charge of missing movement. He also was given a dishonorable discharge from the military and a reduction in rank to private. If he had been found guilty of desertion, he could have faced five years in prison.

Benderman failed to deploy with his 3rd Infantry Division unit Jan. 8, 10 days after he told Fort Stewart commanders he was seeking a discharge as a conscientious objector.

Benderman said during the sentencing phase that he didn’t mean for his actions to hurt his comrades.

“I am not against soldiers,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone says. Though some might take my actions as being against soldiers, I want everyone to be home and safe and raising their families. I don’t want anyone to be hurt in a combat zone.”

‘I never ran from it’
He has previously said he refused to deploy to Iraq after his first combat tour during the 2003 invasion made him opposed to war.

In Iraq, he said he witnessed a young girl suffering third-degree burns to her arm, dogs feeding on corpses in a mass grave and Iraqi civilians drinking from mud puddles.

“I went to war. I never ran from it,” Benderman said Wednesday. “I experienced it, and I realized it’s not what I should be doing. In my opinion, it’s not what anybody should be doing in the modern world.”

Benderman’s attorney said his client acted out of confusion rather than defiance, thinking he had been excused from deploying.

But a military prosecutor said Benderman simply wanted to avoid a dangerous mission.

“They were hours away from moving,” said prosecutor Capt. Jonathan DeJesus. “They certainly couldn’t replace him, and they were in no position to go find him.”

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