Why I did not apply for noncombatant status

posted on 2013-06-28

Below is the text of a document I prepared when filing for conscientious objector status to leave the navy. I’ve published it at the request of other conscientious objectors going through the discharge process.

I joined the Navy because I wanted to serve my country. My religious beliefs no longer allow me to kill, but I still want to serve. Service, in fact, is an integral part of my beliefs. My country has given me a lot. I value the ideas of freedom and democracy. I want to give everything I have to my country and the ideals for which it stands. Ideally, I would serve in a capacity that maximizes the peace and welfare of the United States, but minimizes my contribution to war. I believe these goals are not mutually exclusive. This document explores how well my service options meet these goals, both inside and outside the military. This will explain my decision not to apply for noncombatant (1-A-0) status.

Why I cannot serve within the military

All billets in the military are designed to maximize the security of the United States, and these billets contribute to war in varying degrees. If a billet existed which did not contribute to war in any way, I would gladly volunteer for it. No matter how dangerous, difficult, time-consuming, or otherwise undesirable the job may be, I would enthusiastically perform this job to the best of my abilities. I cannot know every billet available, but I do know what communities exist. The Navy’s officer community is divided into four main groups: unrestricted line officers, restricted line officers, special duty officers, and the staff corps. I will classify these communities depending on whether they present high, medium, or low conflict with my beliefs.

I will demonstrate that had I applied for noncombatant (1-A-0) status, I would still be placed in a billet which conflicts with my beliefs. According to regulation MILPERSMAN 1900-020, a noncombatant can be assigned to serve “on board an armed ship or aircraft in a combat zone provided the member is not personally and directly involved in the operation of weapons.” For example, as a nuclear trained officer, I could be assigned to operate the nuclear propulsion system for an aircraft carrier. I would not be the individual delivering bombs to their targets, so according to regulations I would not be responsible.  But according to my conscience I would still be responsible.

High conflict communities

Most of the Navy’s communities are primarily warfare related. These communities provide the maximum conflict with my convictions. The unrestricted line officers form the heart of the Navy. Their duties involve training for war, and conducting war once begun. This directly goes against my nonviolent religious beliefs. These communities include:

  1. Surface warfare

  2. Submarine warfare

  3. Naval aviation

  4. Naval flight officers

  5. Special warfare

Notably, by the definition of a 1-A-0 noncombatant I could still be billeted within these high conflict communities.

Medium conflict communities

Even if I were guaranteed a billet not in the high conflict communities, all naval communities present at least a medium conflict with my beliefs.  They all participate in war indirectly because their missions are to make the warfighters more effective.  The navy divides these medium conflict communities into three categories: restricted line officers, special duty officers, and staff corps.

Restricted line officers prepare the Navy for warfare. Without their support, the fighting elements of the Navy could not complete their missions. Therefore, these communities still provide significant conflict with my nonviolent religious beliefs. These communities include:

  1. Human Resources Officers “plan, program and execute life-cycle management of our Navy’s most important resource – people.”

  2. Nuclear Propulsion Training officers teach students the fundamentals of nuclear propulsion. The purpose of this training is so that students qualify in ship driving, and the training is critical in their training for war.

  3. Naval Reactors Engineers ensure the safe and reliable operation of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion plants. This ensures the combat readiness of the Navy’s submarine force and aircraft carriers.

  4. Engineering Duty Officers design, construct, and maintain the Navy’s ships. These ships are designed around their capabilities to project power and deliver weapons systems to enemy targets.

  5. Aerospace Engineering Duty officers perform a similar role for the Navy’s airplanes.

  6. Foreign Area Officers “manage and analyze politico-military activities overseas.”

Special duties officers are similar to unrestricted line officers in that they are usually only indirectly involved in warfare. This includes:

  1. Intelligence officers provide “tactical, operational and strategic intelligence support to U.S. naval forces, joint services, multi-national forces, and executive level decision-makers.”

  2. Public Affairs are responsible for projecting a good moral image of the Navy’s warfighting

  3. Recruiters convince young men and women to join the warfighting elements of the navy

  4. Fleet Support officers provide engineering assistance to warfighting units

  5. Meteorology/Oceanography officers “collect, analyze, and distribute data about the ocean and the atmosphere to Navy forces operating all over the world. They assist the war fighter in taking tactical advantage of the environment.”

Special duties officers are similar to unrestricted line officers. They includes:

  1. Information Professionals maintain the electronic equipment aboard naval installations

  2. Information Warfare officers “deliver overwhelming information superiority that successfully supports command objectives… And ultimately, providing war-fighters, planners and policy makers with real-time warning, offensive opportunities and an ongoing operational advantage.”

  3. Cyber Warfare Engineers conduct electronic attacks

Staff corps officers are like special duties officers that require special training.  They include doctors and JAGs.  I would not be qualified for any of these billets.

Serving my country outside the military

I believe there are many opportunities outside the military that would allow me to serve in a manner consistent with my beliefs. Should I be given a discharge, I will pursue such service. I would gladly accept as a condition of my discharge some other type of obligated service. Many conscientious objectors in the past have served honorably in government service. They have volunteered to restore national parks, serve in psychiatric wards, and even have medical experiments conducted on themselves. The smoke jumpers—an elite group of firefighters who parachute into blazing fires—were founded by conscientious objectors.

I have received training that can be utilized nonviolently in two areas: computer science and nuclear power. This training can be used nonviolently to promote the effective defense of the United States.

In a defensive capacity, my computer science training could be used to safeguard electronic systems against attack. Criminal organizations routinely target government electronic infrastructure. Sometime they are looking for specific information, sometimes simply to cause disruptions. I have significant experience protecting electronic assets. I would proudly serve in a role where I would harden the United States government and infrastructure against such threats.

In a defensive capacity, my nuclear training could be used to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. The current administration has expressed an intent to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal. I could apply my nuclear training with the Department of Energy


All available billets within the Navy present high conflict with my belief in Jesus. I therefore cannot apply for noncombatant 1-A-0 status. But there are many other roles within the federal government that I am both highly qualified for and present no such conflict. I would gladly serve in such a capacity, no matter how difficult or dangerous the job may be.