By Chris Lombardi
Monday, August 7, 2006
Army National Guard Private Katherine Jashinski completed a 47-day prison sentence last month for refusing to serve in Afghanistan. During her imprisonment she talked about winding up in the brig at age 23 and where she goes from here.
SAN DIEGO (WOMENSENEWS)--Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego, looks like a sleepy, 1970s-style college campus. But the station's brig, a squat building far from the Marine fighter jets, looks more like a school in the tough part of town.
Shortly before her release in July, Katherine Jashinski, a 23-year-old Army National Guard private, wearing full camouflage fatigues, smiled as she entered the prison's gymnasium-like visiting room where about a dozen young people sat with their children and families in small circles of hard-back plastic chairs.
"Everybody here has an opinion about everyone else," Jashinski said with a gentle smile, referring to the brig, which has prisoners from all military branches. "It's like being back in high school."
With her slight build and curly hair, Jashinski could easily have been mistaken for a high school student, instead of a prisoner serving the last few weeks of her 120-day sentence for refusing to train with weapons.
Jashinski is one of the first female conscientious objectors from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to make her action public through the press. She decided to join the military in 1999, when she was 15 and still in high school. Five years later, she wrote to her command, "I believe that all war is morally wrong."
Since mid-2003, when young marine Stephen Funk publicly refused to train for Iraq, the number of other objectors in uniform has steadily grown and now includes officers, including 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who last week became the first commissioned officer arrested for refusing to deploy in what he called an "illegal war."
The proportion of women in the National Guard has been rising steadily. In the 12-month period between June 2005 and June 2006, women accounted for 17.4 percent of all recruits, six percentage points higher than 1996 and slightly higher than the 2005 figure of 15 percent for women's representation in the military overall.
The Office of Army Public Affairs reported in June that 61 CO, or conscientious objector, applications were filed in 2005, with only 23 approved. Nonprofit military counseling organizations affiliated with the G.I. Rights Hotline claim the number of applicants is far higher.
Bill Galvin is counseling coordinator for the Washington-based Center on Conscience and War, a 66-year-old organization that provides advocacy for COs and others who refuse to participate in war. Galvin couldn't provide numbers about how many CO applicants are female, but says he's personally seen quite a few. "Just from our cases, and those I hear about around the network--I'd say that fully half of our CO cases are from women--far over their percentage in the military."
Jashinski, the youngest daughter of a conservative Christian family in central Wisconsin, is the first in the family to go to college. She was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin. She left home looking for a different way of life. "I wanted to learn about different ways of being," she said last week from her apartment in Austin. "The military seemed a logical next step," she added.
For the daughter of a house painter and a factory worker, joining the guard felt like the only way to pay for college. She thought of war as sometimes necessary, she said.
An aerospace engineering major, Jashinski fell in with a "lefty" crowd and grew her hair into "nappy white-girl dreadlocks," said Ella Schwartz, whom Jashinski calls her best friend from college. "When she said she was joining the military, we couldn't believe it," Schwartz told Women's eNews.
Meanwhile, the National Guard that Jashinski joined in mid-2002 was changing quickly from a force that responded primarily to domestic emergencies such as floods and fires. Last year the Guard provided 43 percent of troops in Afghanistan and 55 percent in Iraq, percentages not seen since World War I, when guard troops were 40 percent of U.S. combat units in France.
In early 2003 Jashinski began nine weeks of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, near Waynesville, Mo., arriving late for spring classes that term. "It was the only part of the military I ever liked," she said. "I was pretty fit, so I did well. We were just going, going, going all the time."
Back at school, Jashinki's friends joined anti-war rallies and Jashinski said she started examining her own beliefs. She moved away from her parents' faith, after reading philosopher and anti-war activist Bertrand Russell's 1923 essay on skepticism and belief, "Why I Am Not a Christian." Jashinski began to believe that moral choices were hers alone.
In April 2004, when Jashinski's unit received deployment orders for Afghanistan she began to draft her CO application. In August her unit went to Afghanistan without her while her appeal worked its way up the chain of command.
Her command found her timing "suspicious," and denied her application three times, saying the mission that she would serve in Afghanistan was to rebuild schools and was consistent with Jashinski's beliefs.
Jashinski rejected any military affiliation. "I can no longer be part of an organization that relies on violence to achieve its ends," she wrote in her conscientious objector application.
In May, she went on trial, for missing movement by design and disobeying a superior officer. A military judge found her guilty of just the disobedience charge, and sentenced her to 120 days imprisonment, allowing her pre-trial confinement to account for all but 47 days at the Miramar brig. She could have been subject to over a year on the more serious charge, according to her attorney, James Feldman.
Upon her release July 9, Jashinski flew home to Texas. Still an engineer, she hopes to develop water projects in developing nations. She also expects to become a counselor on the Austin, Texas, branch of the G.I. Rights Hotline.
Advocates for women in the military have mixed reactions to Jashinski's case.
"Does she have a right? Of course. Does it reflect on other women in her unit? Absolutely," said Bridget Wilson, a veteran whose private law firm, Rosenstein, Wilson and Dean, specializes in military cases. "When one woman in the unit does that, every other woman is suspect in the eyes of the command."
Captain Lory Manning, a 25-year U.S. Navy veteran and former commander of the Naval Telecommunications Station, Diego Garcia, now works for the Washington-based Women's Research and Education Institute as director of the Women in the Military Project, which issues a biannual report on "The State of Women in the Military Today."
Manning told Women's eNews, "These people aren't cowards. As women are a higher and higher percentage of the military, it's inevitable that there will be some who take this path."
Chris Lombardi, a freelance writer in New York, writes for The Nation, ABA Journal and Queens Chronicle, and is working on a narrative history of soldiers and veterans who dissent.
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