Local groups holding workshops on Alternative to military service

Alternatives to military service

Wayzata (Ohio) resident Nancy Berneking and Minnetonka resident Rich Wildberger want young people to know about military alternatives in case a draft is reinstated.

“We think it is important for young people to think about,” Berneking said.

The two members of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka have devised a workshop on behalf of the church for students and their families to learn about alternatives to military service, including being conscientious objectors. Those who attend the workshop will receive a packet of materials that will help them prepare documents for alternative service in case they are called to military duty.

A conscientious objector is a person who is opposed to serving in the armed forces because of moral or religious principles.

The U.S. military draft ended in 1973. An act of Congress, passed by both the House and Senate, would be needed to reinstate the draft. The bill would also have to be signed by the president. The closest a bill has come in recent years was a bill introduced in 2003 that would have required all young men and women age 18 to 26 to perform a period of military service. That bill was defeated late in 2004.

Since the Selective Service Act in 1940 young men turning 18 have had to register with Selective Service for possible military duty. A portion of the act allows for special exemption from active military service for those who are opposed to war because of moral or religious reasons. According to the Selective Service Web site, “The Alternative Service Program would provide public service work assignments in America’s communities in lieu of military service for men classified as conscientious objectors to all military service.”

This is something Wildberger knows all too well because he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He said he became a conscientious objector, like his brother did during World War II, because he is opposed to all war.

“We think that war and killing are wrong and there are other ways to solve conflict,” he said. “The idea of killing in war was always opposed in our family.”

Wildberger was assigned to work in an Illinois mental hospital for two years to complete his alternative service during the Korean War.

He said when he was completing his service no other workers at the hospital realized he was a conscientious objector.

“They didn’t know. As far as they were concerned I was just another guy coming to work there,” he said.

Berneking and Wildberger said the purpose of the workshop is to let those who are opposed to war know that they have to be prepared if a draft were reinstated and before they are in front of their local draft board.

“You can’t do this overnight. There are things you need to do before you come before your draft board,” Berneking said.

She said a conscientious objector must prove and document his or her opposition to war because of moral or religious reasons.

Berneking, whose husband and son are both military veterans, said the workshop is not an attempt to influence anyone on what they should do, but more an attempt to get information out and prepare young people.

“We should help our kids think about this, but we can’t make the decision for them,” she said.

Berneking said she wants members of the community who have relatives in the military or who might be offended by the idea of the workshop to remember that the goal is not to influence the youth, but to prepare them with as much information as possible about a life-or-death situation.

“We understand that not everybody is in the same place, but we want to support our young people in whatever they do. Just getting the information out there should not be objectionable; it’s law.”

Wildberger said that with military recruitment down and older Americans serving in the military, a draft could be a possibility in the future. He said that if a draft were reinstated it might be too late for a conscientious objector to avoid military service if they hadn’t prepared for that day ahead of time.

“We are trying to let people think about this before it happens,” he said.

What’s next
What: A workshop about alternative military service and conscientious objection
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 17
Where: St. Luke Presbyterian Church, 3121 Groveland School Road, Minnetonka
Information: 952-261-0624.

By Joe Kieser Sun Newspapers (Created 4/7/2005 9:18:07 AM)

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