July 27, 2005 at 7:56 PM EST - Updated July 26 at 10:00 PM
A Fort Stewart soldier refused to deploy to Iraq for a second tour faces a general court-martial Thursday on charges of desertion. Sergeant Kevin Benderman skipped his Third Infantry Division unit's flight January eighth, just ten days after giving his commanders notice that he was seeking a discharge as a conscientious objector.
The 40-year-old Benderman insists he never deserted the Army whose uniform he continues to wear -- even though he turned his back on war.
The Army mechanic served in Iraq during the 2003 invasion and decided he could no longer be a part of the destruction he witnessed, even if that meant choosing conscience over his commitment to his fellow troops.
Now, he says he is prepared to deal with whatever consequences he faces as a result of his decision. Benderman faces up to five years in prison if convicted. He has opted to let a military judge, Colonel Donna Wright, decide his guilt or innocence rather than a jury of his peers in uniform.