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Thursday, March 17, 2005 03:54 am

Considering the alternative

The Rev. Martin Woulfe grew up in a military family. His father was an officer in the Marines, and young Martin prepared for a military career.

At 17, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, but, after much soul-searching, he turned it down.

“It had been my goal, coming of age, to serve God, serve country,” Woulfe says. “Growing up, I was surrounded by veterans, and it was an anguished process to realize I could not follow them.”

Today Woulfe, 44, is the minister of Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Universalist Unitarian Congregation. He and other local peace activists recently joined forces to form Conscientious Objections/Selective Service Alternatives, an educational group to provide information on alternatives to military service in case the military draft is reinstated. Organizers want to ensure that students, parents, and educators have access to information on how to become a conscientious objector.

An additional goal is to educate students on other ways of paying for college so that they don’t feel compelled to join the military to be able to afford college. CO/SSA will be creating brochures to give to high-school guidance counselors, to distribute at college fairs, and to provide alternatives to military recruiters in schools.

Woulfe wants young people to understand their options. “I was oblivious to those as a young person,” he says. “I find war a very poor remedy for the ills that affect this world today.”

Currently all young men ages 18-25 are required to register with the Selective Service. If the draft is reinstated, a person may object to serving in the armed forces or to bearing arms because of moral or religious reasons.

But Woulfe notes that one must show documentation of such views over time by creating a paper trail. According to the Selective Service, “The man’s lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.”

A conscientious objector must be opposed to war in any form, but objector status does not provide an exemption from national service. A person granted conscientious-objector status will be assigned to a noncombatant role in the military or to alternative service. Anyone wishing to document his case may write Woulfe at minister@aluuc.org or call 217-585-9550.

As the mother of an 18-year-old son, CO/SSA member Jamie Burns says she has been worried about a possible draft for the past 18 years.

“Fear of the draft has been keeping me up at night,” Burns says. “It scares me to death.” Having researched alternatives to military service for years, Burns wants to share information with other parents.

“If you’re a CO, it doesn’t mean you won’t serve your country,” Burns says, citing the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps as alternatives. She also fears that reductions in federal student-loan money for college are tied to the military’s programs that pay for college: “We want to educate people to alternatives for college funding and also how to handle potential harassment from military recruiters in schools and elsewhere.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to provide military recruiters with students’ names, addresses, and home phone numbers — or risk the loss of federal funds.

For more information, CO/SSA suggests the Web sites of the Central Committee on Conscientious Objectors (www.objector.org), the War Resisters League (www.warresisters.org), the American Friends Service Committee (www.afsc.org), and Voices in the Wilderness (vitw.org).

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