Vets to troops: You don't have to deploy if you don't want to

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- As thousands of local servicemen and women get ready to deploy to Afghanistan, a group of veterans is launching a campaign to tell troops there is a way to opt out legally.

The Coalition of Veterans' Organizations reached out to active-duty soldiers on Monday, saying the tide has turned against the war in Afghanistan. The group stood on the Freedom Bridge over Interstate 5 near the entrance to the Army base, waving a banner.

The message behind the group's "Our Lives, Our Rights" campaign: you don't have to go if you don't want to. The veterans say the troops simply need to claim "conscientious objector" status.

"In fact, you don't have to be there and that's what this campaign is all about -- letting people know what their options are," said group member Mike Prysner.

"I think there are people out there who would be receptive to it," said Greg Miller a former member of the Fourth Stryker brigade. "I know I would be, if I were getting ready to go to Afghanistan, and I didn't know anything about conscientious objection."

The Stryker unit is slated to head to Afghanistan over the next month or so.

The last soldier to resist heading into combat made headlines. Lt. Ehren Watada was court-martialed, but it ended in a mistrial and Watada was dishonorably discharged in 2009.

Army veterans say going for conscientious objector status is a better way.

"There are actually some alternatives. They're not necessarily easy ones; there's no guarantees," said Vietnam war resister Gerry Condon.

Condon was a special forces medic in the Vietnam era who fled the U.S.

"And we're here to help you," he said. "If you want our help, we're here for you."

But military analysts say getting conscientious objector status is difficult, especially with an all-volunteer Army.

"You volunteered. You signed up for this. You probably took enlistment bonuses. You probably took a lot of training and benefits. And now as it approaches you decide to object to it? I think that's a little disingenuous," said Ret. Col. Mike Courts, a former Army commander.

But the group of vets claims the war in Afghanistan in no longer a fight for freedom.

"We signed up to serve our country, but we didn't sign up to have our lives thrown away in a political chess game," Prysner said.

The group announced the campaign last June and since then, only one has taken the group up on its offer. But the group says Monday was the first day they actually reached out to troops.
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