By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
A Fort Hood soldier who opposes all war because of his religious beliefs was sentenced to a year in jail Friday for refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop, with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was later escorted out the Fort Hood judicial center in handcuffs and shackles. He flashed a peace sign while five veterans and an active-duty soldier saluted him.
Bishop, 25, who previously served a year in Iraq, was found guilty of two counts of missing movement, disobeying a lawful order and going absent without leave (AWOL) during a special court-martial Friday.
The soldier will spend about two weeks in Bell County Jail until he's transferred to a regional military correctional facility.
"My father said, 'Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you'll still be shaving the same face,'" Bishop said in a statement he gave to his command when he returned from AWOL.
"If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don't think I would have been able to look into another mirror again."
The military hearing at Fort Hood began Thursday and continued Friday. Bishop pleaded not guilty to the charges. An eight-member jury found him guilty on all accounts, and sentenced him to the maximum penalty allowed by military law.
Bishop was also demoted to private, given a bad-conduct discharge and denied $933 of each month's pay for a year.
He was the second soldier in as many weeks to be sent to jail for refusing to participate in a war he believes is immoral and illegal.
"The Army is a values-based organization which embraces the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage," Fort Hood officials said in a statement Friday. "For a soldier to violate military law by refusing to obey orders is a serious matter."
A spiritual awakening
The defense argued that Bishop underwent a spiritual awakening that began during his time in Iraq and continued until the day he decided not to deploy. The prosecution characterized Bishop as an irresponsible noncommissioned officer on a "misguided intellectual journey" who was desperate to find an easy way out of his deployment.
Bishop was initially scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan on May 18, but did not because of an alleged back injury he sustained when he fell down a flight of stairs carrying his luggage. He was sent to an emergency room where he received pain medication.
Bishop's defense claimed he was physically unable to deploy that day because of his injury, and missed his flight because he was in the emergency room. However, Capt. Sharon Denise Deson, a physician assistant who examined him that day, testified on Thursday that she did not see any physical injuries.
Bishop was then rescheduled to deploy on May 20, but instead went AWOL. He turned himself into his unit a week later.
During the sentencing phase, Bishop took the stand and said he had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for conscientious objector status until just days before he was scheduled to deploy. A conscientious objector is someone who refuses to participate in combat based on religious or ethical grounds, and can be given an honorable discharge by the military.
"Why is there such a stigma around the words conscientious objection? To me, for the longest time, it was only an archaic term from somewhere back in the Vietnam era, not something applied to the modern soldier," Bishop said.
"To file for C.O. status is an individual right of every soldier in the Army. … But unlike other regulations in the military, this one remains unpublicized. As soon as I realized the process existed, I acted upon it. … Others will hear my story and those who feel as I feel may be able to apply for C.O. status."
The defense called four witnesses who all insisted that Bishop was sincere in his Christian beliefs, and acted out of conscience on the day he refused to deploy.
"Since I've known him, he's been extremely insistent of his beliefs," said Joie Michaels, who has been friends with Bishop for over a year. "Faith-wise, the war in Afghanistan does not coincide with the teachings of Christ."
However, in an unexpected move, the prosecution called in Lt. Col. Ron Leininger, an Army chaplain, who conducted an interview with Bishop after he filed for C.O. status, and claimed Bishop was insincere in his religious convictions.
"It was not a deeply held or sincerely held belief," Leininger said. "I felt that it was a shortly-held belief system and the timing of the other trouble he's involved in was odd."
The prosecution called one other witness to the stand during the sentencing phase. Capt. Christopher Hall testified that when Bishop missed his first flight, the unit was left without leadership, and the unit had to shuffle around noncommissioned officers because they were a man short in Afghanistan.
"This is not the end by any means. This is the beginning," Bishop said to a group of supporters before he was sentenced. "When I get out I'm going to be louder, more active and pissed off."
On Aug. 5, Victor Agosto, also in the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to a month in jail and stripped of his Army rank for refusing orders to prepare to deploy. Agosto said the wars in the Middle East are "immoral and unjust," and a violation of international law. Agosto did not apply for C.O. status because he does not object to all wars. He's now serving his sentence at Bell County Jail.
Protesters plan to be outside the Bell County Criminal Justice Complex, at Loop 121 and Huey Drive in Belton, from 1 to 2 p.m. every Saturday while Agosto is incarcerated.