My husband has been a Naval officer for 25 years now, which may have a little to do with our son, Trent Helmkamp, joining the Marines through their Delayed Entry Program in June 2003. He was 17 years old and had just finished his junior year of high school.

He was shipped off to boot camp June 2004, expecting to find the adventure and personal fulfillment that the recruiters and brochures had promised. He was going to be one of “The Few, the Proud, a Marine” and “The Change Would Be Forever,” and after his four years of service he would have money for college.

He did not find what the military told him he would find. He left to train at Parris Island without having a realistic concept of what he was about to do. Somehow, all the glossy brochures and videos had failed to mention the dehumanization of military training and war.

The thought of killing another human being, and the reality of all the innocent lives lost during war, didn’t really hit him until he was at boot camp. On the rifle range, the human-shaped targets began to seem so real. They became another human being, someone’s father, son, or daughter whose life he was about to end.

He became depressed and experienced anxiety. Most of his letters home were hard for me to read, as he spoke of how much he did not want to be in the military and had made the biggest mistake of his life.

He graduated on Sept. 10, and came home for leave. He was depressed and confused and was sent to see a military chaplain and a mental health counselor at the Marine base close to our home.

While he was home he heard about conscientious objectors. He didn’t know that people in the military who opposed war and killing could apply for conscientious objector status and possibly be discharged. The process is long and hard and many people that apply are denied it.

Still depressed, he left for Camp Lejeune, N.C., Sept. 28. He saw a mental health counselor the next day and spoke to his commanding officer, declaring himself a conscientious objector. He has a lawyer and is working on his application for a conscientious objector discharge. They are supposed to put him in a job that conflicts as little as possible with his beliefs until his application is reviewed, but his application will not be ready before training is supposed to start. He has been told that he will be taken to the brig if he refuses to train.

I wanted to send his story out in hopes of finding people who will support him and write him letters expressing that support. He is against killing and war and is willing to go to jail for his beliefs.

He realizes that going against the crowd may be the hardest thing he has done. I told him I felt that there were worse prisons than being behind bars. If a person goes against their beliefs they will be living in a prison of their own making filled with the memories of the deaths and injustices they brought to others. There are many kinds of prisons. Sometimes a person is more free behind bars when they have followed their heart.

Kathie Helmkamp lives in Fredericksburg, Va. She can be reached at





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