Army to court-martial antiwar sergeant

An Army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq for a second tour of duty will be court-martialed on desertion charges, officials said Friday.

Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, missed his unit’s deployment flight Jan. 7 after giving his commanders notice 10 days earlier that he planned to seek a discharge as a conscientious objector. Benderman said he had become opposed to war after serving in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Fort Stewart commanders contend Benderman had an obligation to deploy with his unit, the 3rd Forward Support Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division, while the Army processed his objector application.

Benderman will be tried by a general court-martial, the most serious form of court-martial, on charges of desertion and missing movement. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison, reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge.

Military courts can also opt for no punishment, even for defendants found guilty. No trial date has been set.

“In fairness to the soldier, the command is working hard to resolve these issues as expediently as possible,” said Fort Stewart spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone.

Benderman did not immediately return a phone call Friday. But he said in a Jan. 20 interview that he was not guilty.

Though he never fired a gun in combat, Benderman says the misery he saw firsthand — including a badly burned young girl and mass graves — led him to seek objector status.

Objector applications are subject to lengthy review by the Army. Benderman waited to notify his commanders until the week before the 3rd Infantry at Fort Stewart began deploying its 19,000 troops to Iraq.