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Dozens quitting U.S. military over Gaza in protest

We are republishing this exclusive report from The Empire Files.

The day after Aaron Bushnell put on his Air Force uniform and became the first US service member to earn the title of “Martyr” across the world, the Pentagon’s press secretary was asked in the briefing room: “Is the Secretary [of Defense] concerned that this airman’s actions may indicate there’s a deeper issue, maybe US military personnel being concerned about how weapons and support for Israel is being used on civilians in Gaza?”

The brave General Pat Ryder cowered from the question with a stock “Israel has the right to defend itself” response. But maybe he didn’t answer because it was too obvious: of course Bushnell was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a younger military removed from the jingoism of the 9/11 generation; where left-wing ideas are far more popular; while facilitating the most grotesque war crimes ever witnessed, everyday, which they see as they scroll TikTok from the motor pool or wherever they are hiding from their platoon leaders. 

Months later, more of that iceberg has been revealed as it floats above the ocean of propaganda.

According to Maria Santelli, Executive Director of the Center on Conscience and War, since October 7 they have helped over 40 US troops file for Conscientious Objector status who cite the US role in the Gaza genocide as their turning point. 

These are soldiers who have taken individual rebellious actions to remove themselves from participating in any way–or even wearing the uniform of Israel’s biggest supporter. While CO is a right to all service members, it is a step that requires a lot of courage and resolve to take.

The number of CO applicants over Gaza through the GI Rights Hotline remains steady with soldiers who have reached their breaking point.

Santelli also reports that a number of soldiers have called the hotline after going AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave), who report their anger over US support for Israel’s massacres being the trigger. (The Hotline does not publicize numbers of AWOL troops who reach out for help.)

Several additional troops have quit the military publicly.

On June 4 Major Harrison Mann went public that he resigned from his position in the Defense Intelligence Agency, as well as from the Army, in protest of the Gaza genocide, saying “I’m confident saying it’s certainly some measure of ethnic cleansing.” Highly inconvenient for the Pentagon, given Maj. Mann is a decorated officer, is Jewish, is a Middle East expert, and is willing to go on mainstream news shows to say his piece. 

While Mann got the most coverage, he’s not the only one to take public action. On March 31, Senior Airman Larry Hebert took 40 days leave from his unit based in Spain and used it to wage a hunger strike in front of the White House, holding a sign reading “Active Duty Airman Refuses To Eat While Gaza Starves.”

On June 7, he dropped his paperwork filing for a Conscientious Objector discharge. When I spoke with him after filing, he told me:

One key value they teach us in the Air Force is ‘Integrity First.’ They explain this as doing the right thing when nobody’s watching. Today, I feel like many of us are doing the wrong thing while everyone is watching. 

Filing CO status publicly is quite rare, as most opt to do it quietly to avoid reprisal. But Senior Airman Hebert is not alone in doing this.

On June 5, Senior Airman Juan Bettancourt, who is in the same unit as Aaron Bushnell, publicly announced via social media he too made the decision to file as a conscientious objector over the genocide, while backing an Appeal For Redress (which allows active-duty troops to petition Congress with their grievances).

His turning point was at Bushnell’s official memorial service on Lackland Air Force Base. He left a small Palestinian flag on the vigil table, the only reference at the entire ceremony to Bushnell’s cause. He told me:

I was moved by Aaron’s final message and his determination to shake us out of our comfortable lives and draw our eyes towards the atrocities happening in Gaza.

I believe it is unconscionable to expect military personnel to comply with genocide in blatant disregard for domestic, humanitarian and international laws.

It is highly significant for a US-backed operation to draw such resistance from within the ranks: the dramatic action of Bushnell, the high-profile resignation of Maj. Mann, two simultaneous public Conscientious Objector campaigns with scores of others following suit in secret.

Many others have decided to end their military careers, and join the pro-Palestine movement while they ride out the remainder of their contracts or find ways to get discharged medically.

I spoke with five of them on condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions from their command amidst a formal request from Senate Armed Services Committee for the DoD to route out left-wing “extremism” in the wake of Aaron Bushnell.

“Feeling trapped, it became very clear that I could no longer do this job.”

Technical Sergeant R, who has spent 16 years in the Air Force working as a loadmaster for cargo planes, told me:

After October 7 I found out  the C-17 unit I was transferring to was involved in doing cargo runs to Israel. Feeling trapped, it became very clear that I could no longer do this job.

This Tech Sergeant was able to get removed from normal duties, and is currently pursuing a discharge despite being just 3 years from retirement, telling me:

It was very hard to make a decision with retirement being so close, but as I continued to track the situation in Gaza there was absolutely no way I could carry on.

Specialist O, who says they are one of six pro-Palestine soldiers in their unit, is an Army engineer who has attended over a dozen pro-Palestine protests and traveled hours by bus to join the “Red Line” around the White House on Saturday. They told me:

Before October 7, I didn’t think much about my position in the military. I was there solely to get an education. Being there was like working any other job. But after October 7 the prospect of being deployed increased significantly and it forced me to face the reality of what it meant to be a soldier in the Army: a pawn for US imperialism.

When I asked what they would do if they did receive those deployment orders, Specialist O replied:

I would chain myself to a street lamp if they tried to send me anywhere!

Corporal D, an Army tank crewman, has attended more than 15 protests against the genocide, and also taken on organizing roles in building the actions. He told me:

These months have led me to believe that there are many in the military who feel the same way but are hesitant to speak out.

He went on to report that he knows at least five soldiers in his unit who support Palestine. Corporal D, who planned to become an officer and make a career out of the Army, now plans to be discharged this summer.

“It is an embarrassment to put this uniform on everyday.”

Lieutenant K, a Navy surface warfare officer, told me:

Through my training to become an officer I have been taught about the Navy’s core values and ethics. The actions my government is taking now regarding Israel and Palestine goes against every single one. Our government is complicit in genocide and it is an embarrassment to put this uniform on everyday.

Lieutenant K also initially planned to serve 20 years but has now decided not to reenlist. “Instead of taking care of the people or it’s veterans, they send money for genocide and it’s disgusting.” He says he has several colleagues who agree with him.

Another Naval officer, Lieutenant T, told me:

After October 7, seeing the absolutely abhorrent response from Israel and the US, I felt compelled to do something within my control even if it was as small as petitioning for designation as a conscientious objector. I could no longer hide from the reality that my employment by the Navy allowed me to benefit from the genocide of Palestinians and decided I would not participate in quelling their right to emancipation. 

All this can only be just another surface layer, which gets wider the deeper you go. The sector of service members who have turned against the US/Israeli policy in a profound way is undoubtedly much bigger than we can see at the moment–one the Pentagon is no doubt aware of as well.

The more those troops are inspired to stand up, the greater the pressure on Washington to end the horror. And the protest movement can add fuel to that righteous fire.

Throughout history it has been unrest within the ranks, linked with the anti-war struggle in the broader population, that has been decisive in bringing wars to an end. It can again today.

If you are a member of the US military and want to know more about your legal rights to get out or to protest, call the GI Rights Hotline for 24/7 private, expert counseling at 1-877-447-4487. 

You can also get more information from to A Guide to Getting Out of the US Military Now on the Eyes Left Podcast.

If you’d like to speak out, or need support, contact Mike at [email protected].

DISCLAIMER: The comments made by Larry Hebert, Juan Bettancourt and the five other service members are their views alone and do not reflect the Department of Defense, Air Force, Army or Navy.

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