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The Ordeal of Trent Helmkamp

Our Son: a Marine Who Won’t Kill

by KATHIE HELMKAMP

My name is KATHIE HELMKAMP and I live in Fredericksburg, VA. My husband Mark, has been a Naval Officer for 25 years now, which may have a little to do with our son, Trent Helmkamp, joining the Marines through their Delayed Entry Program in June 2003. He was 17 years old and had just finished his junior year of high school.

He was shipped off to boot camp June 2004, expecting to find the adventure and personal fulfillment that the recruiters and brochures had promised. He was going to be one of "The Few, The Proud, A Marine" and "The Change Would Be Forever," and after his four years of service he would have money for college.

He did not find what the military was hoping and told him he would find, but rather he experienced something that would "Change Him Forever." He left to train at Parris Island without having a realistic concept of what he was about to do. Somehow, all the glossy brochures and videos about the Marines had failed to mention the dehumanization of military training and war.

The thought of killing another human being, and the reality of all the innocent lives lost during war, didn’t really hit him until he was at boot camp. He came to realize that what might be asked of him in the future, killing others, was not something he could do and that it would violate his conscience. On the rifle range, the human shaped targets began to seem so real. They became another human being, someone’s father, son, or daughter whose life he was about to end, changing their families lives forever. His beliefs really crystallized during bayonet training and while learning to stomp on others throats to kill them. At that time he knew how he would feel, shooting and taking the life of another. His conscience had awakened and he was going to listen to it.

While at boot camp he became depressed and experienced anxiety. He felt trapped and had no one to talk to. Most of his letters home were hard for me to read, as he spoke of how much he did not want to be in the military and had made the biggest mistake of his life, but felt there was nothing that could be done about it.

He graduated on September 10, 2004, and came home for leave. He was depressed and confused and was sent to see a military chaplain and a mental health counselor at the Marine base close to our home. He knew he was now a part of something that would expect things from him that he couldn’t do.

While he was home he heard about conscientious objectors. He didn’t know that people in the military who opposed war and killing could apply for conscientious objector status and possibly be discharged. The process is long and hard and many people that apply are denied it.

Still depressed he left for Camp Lejeune in NC, September 28, 2004. He saw a mental health counselor the next day and spoke to his commanding officer declaring himself a conscientious objector. He has a lawyer and has turned his application in to apply for a conscientious objector discharge. He is not supposed to have to train now that his application is in, but rather be assigned duties that conflict as little as possible with his beliefs until his application is reviewed. He does not want to pick up a weapon, but has been told by someone there that he will be ordered to train and if he refuses he will be taken to the brig.

I wanted to send his story out in hopes of finding people that will support him and write him letters expressing that support. He is against killing and war and is willing to go to jail to stand up for his beliefs. I fear for his safety, as a fellow Marine has already punched him in the face causing a cut that required stitches.

I am hoping the process will work for him and he will be home soon. I am hoping he will not be ordered to do things that would go against his beliefs, orders that he might have to refuse to obey. He realizes that going against the crowd may be the hardest thing he has done, but it is the only thing that he can do, that can lead to a real change for the better in his life, even if he has to go to jail.

I told him I felt that there were worse prisons than being behind bars. If a person goes against their beliefs they will be living in a prison of their own making filled with the visions and memories of the deaths and injustices they brought to others. There are many kinds of prisons. Sometimes a person is more free behind bars when they have followed their heart.

KATHIE HELMKAMP can be reached at: KamperTwo@aol.com

Our personal statement:

We want people to know that we support our troops completely. We are not against any branch of the military. We support each and every person that has made the decision to be there. Our story is not about the US Military, but rather about our sons right NOT to be forced to do something that he has realized is wrong for him.

Recent update:

Our son was interviewed the other day by the investigating officer whose conduct was inappropriate. He belittled and berated our son and told him he found his letters of support "annoying"; the letters many of which were from active duty and retired military, some of which held some very important positions and some which are still active duty Marines. He certainly did not come to the interview feeling impartial to the situation as he should have done, but rather tried to bait our son, and treat him with little respect and dignity making our son feel like a criminal that has committed a serious crime. Trent stopped the interview and said he would not answer any more questions without talking to his lawyer, who now plans to be present for the next interview. We are quite disappointed in the behavior of some of the people in the Marine Corp, an organization that brags about taking care of their own and never leaving anyone behind. A Major recently told our son if he went UA or did anything wrong he would keep him there as long as possible. He said he loved to mess with Marines that cause trouble. He was told by a Marine Sergeant at Lejeune, that has harassed him, that as far as they were concerned he was nothing more than a piece of government property and to let him go would be like their property got broken, and he said they did not like broken property. Another person at Lejeune who has been helpful and whose name will not be given said "By letting your son go, they, the Marines, will feel like they have lost, and Marines are trained to always win."