An Army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq for a second tour of duty - saying he had become opposed to war after serving in the 2003 invasion - said Wednesday an investigating officer recommended the Army deny him conscientious objector status.
Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, has been charged with desertion for refusing to deploy with his unit and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted by a court-martial. His objector application is being handled separately.
"I'm amazed by how they're trying to stack the deck against me," Benderman said.
A Fort Stewart spokesman, Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone, could not immediately confirm the recommendation. Benderman said a letter with the recommendation was given to him Wednesday by his military attorney.
A portion of the letter, provided by Benderman, noted he'd waited to file his objector claim until just before his Jan. 7 deployment date.
"There is a 15 month time lapse from when Sgt. Benderman's beliefs originated ... and when he submitted his CO application on 28 December 2004," wrote Capt. Victor Aqueche, the officer assigned to investigate Benderman's objector claim.
Aqueche also wrote "Sgt. Benderman began his initial research the same time he first heard about stop loss" - the Army policy that can force soldiers to serve past their enlistment dates.
Benderman conceded his enlistment is set to end in October - before he would have returned from Iraq. He denied that was the reason he sought objector status.
Though he never fired a gun in combat, Benderman says what he saw in Iraq - including a badly burned young girl and mass graves filled with men, women and children - led him to file an objector claim.
Benderman has 10 days to file a rebuttal; the Department of the Army makes a final decision.