The first Marine to refuse deployment under Operation Desert Shield was released from active duty Wednesday at Camp Pendleton after being granted an “other than honorable” administrative discharge, officials said.
Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Paterson, a Hawaii-based Marine who was being processed for release at Camp Pendleton, was given any back pay he was owed and an airplane ticket home to San Francisco, according to Staff Sgt. Vicki Turney, a Camp Pendleton spokeswoman. About 2:30 p.m., she said, he boarded a public bus and left the base.
“His record is closed,” Turney said.
Last week, the Marine Corps agreed to discharge Paterson and drop court-martial proceedings against him. In return, the 22-year-old artillery controller halted legal action against the Marine Corps stemming from its rejection of his request for conscientious objector--or CO--status. He also admitted to two infractions and accepted a reduction of rank, from corporal to lance corporal.
Brig. Gen. R.L. Phillips, Paterson’s commanding officer, said in a statement that the expeditious discharge was “in the best interests of the United States government.” But Eric Seitz, Paterson’s attorney, said Wednesday that his client benefited from the military’s eagerness to avoid further negative publicity.
“The Marine Corps decided they just had to end it,” Seitz said, adding that Paterson was pleased with the settlement. “We equate an other-than-honorable discharge as essentially being fired. And we’re comfortable with that. He didn’t want to be in the military any more than they wanted him to be in the military.”
Paterson’s case had drawn international attention since Aug. 29, when he refused a direct order to board a military transport plane bound for Saudi Arabia, sitting down on the floor of the hangar as his fellow Marines left. Twelve days earlier, he had filed an application for conscientious objector status, saying that to engage in combat would be to betray his beliefs. “Many assert that because I signed a contract and placed myself in the indentured servitude of the military four years ago, I should fulfill my ‘obligation,’ regardless of my belief,” Paterson wrote in an opinion piece published by The Times in October. “I’ve been chipping away at my soul for two years now, fulfilling that contract. . . . I can bend no farther.”
He continued: “That is not to say that I will not fight for the people of this land, or any other land. But my weapons are ideas, commitment and a sense of justice--not bullets, chemical rockets or nuclear warheads. And my battles are against injustice, inequality and the placing of the Earth’s wealth in the hands of the very few.”
William Paterson, Jeffrey’s father, said Wednesday that the family has a big celebration planned when Jeff arrives home in Hollister, a small community southeast of San Jose. But, the elder Paterson said: “It’s not really over. He still wants to go on speaking out. It just goes into another phase. At least now he’s a little freer to do what he wants to do.”
Paterson, who held a news conference in August to announce his conscientious objector claim, has continued to criticize the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, which he says risks lives on behalf of “imperialistic economic interests.” According to Seitz, military officials sought to discredit Paterson’s application by saying it was based on his political beliefs.
Military regulations require that to be granted conscientious objector status on religious, moral or ethical grounds, a member of the service must prove that the belief is the primary controlling force in his or her life--a belief “of the same strength and depth as found in traditional religious conviction.” Seitz says his client met that criteria.
Seitz also disputed the Marine Corps’ statement that Paterson will automatically lose his veterans’ benefits as a result of his discharge, saying that was “not an automatically foregone conclusion.” Administrative discharges can be upgraded, he said, and are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine what benefits are granted.
The U.S. Marine Corps receives an average of 32 conscientious objector applications in any given year, according to Maj. Nancy LaLuntas, a spokeswoman at Headquarters Marine Corps in Arlington, Va. To date this year, she said, 33 applications have been received--although more may be en route to headquarters. Of the 33, eight were received since the beginning of August, when Operation Desert Shield started. One is pending, 19 have been approved and 13 denied.