Being opposed to war doesn’t mean that Quakers aren’t supportive of soldiers. As Lenore Yarger puts it, “military members are also victims of war in their own way.”
This week, we team up with Quaker House to bring you the story of the GI Rights Hotline, a resource for servicemembers and potential recruits to help them fully understand their rights.
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- Find out how Quakers are assisting military personnel stationed in 11 states
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- As lifelong peace activists, Steve and Lenore were surprised to find themselves wanting to support members of the military, since “military members are also victims of war in their own way.” When have you experienced an enemy turning into an ally?
- Steve Yarger says that Quaker House is “trying to live… in a way that comes to terms with being in the middle of a war-making society, and what does it mean to love our enemies?” How do you balance these competing forces in your life?
Steve Woolford: Friends, or Quakers, believe that God is present in everyone, and they believe in the Christian value of loving the enemies. And in Quaker House, people are trying to live that out in a way that comes to terms to being in the middle of a warmaking society, and what does it mean to love our enemies?
The GI Rights Hotline
Lenore Yarger: My name is Lenore Yarger, and I’m a counselor with Quaker House and the G.I. Rights Hotline.
Steve Woolford: I’m Steve Woolford and I’m also a counselor with Quaker House and the G.I. Rights Hotline.
Lenore Yarger: Quaker House is a nonprofit located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg. We have many different programs, and one of them is to counsel people through the G.I. Rights hotline. We also have a domestic violence counseling service for survivors of military domestic violence. And we also speak out against drone warfare and torture and other aspects of war, publicly.
The G.I. Rights Hotline offers
free, accurate, non-directive information
about issues of conscience, discharge,
medical, psychological and other regulations.
Steve Woolford: The G.I. Rights Hotline is a collection of groups that have done counseling for people in the military. Service members and their families can call our toll-free number and get free information about a wide range of issues.
Lenore Yarger: And a good number of people who call the hotline I think are actually questioning their role in the military and are actually seeking discharge to get out of the military, but there’s also people who have grievances and complaints and they need help working through the proper procedures to get help with a particular issue. We also deal with people who are AWOL: Absent Without leave, and are seeking to resolve their situations.
Steve Woolford: Part of the strength of the information we have is that a number of counselors have been handling cases for years, and we’re able to give people a pretty good idea of what are likely outcomes because we’ve just seen so many cases. We know what the regulations say. A lot of times we talk to commands about situations and how they handle them. We’re getting a lot of information that allows us to give people a pretty clear idea of how things will be handled or what strategies will be most effective or what kinds of things are going to work best.
Together, Quaker House’s two
counselors currently handle an average
of 3,450 calls each year.
Lenore Yarger: When we came into this work as peace activists, we had been protesting war for years, we had committed civil disobedience at times, we’d been to jail at times. Our experience with people in the military was literally on the other side of the fence at protests, or we might go to a military base and there they were, and here we were. It was very limited. Quaker House gave us the opportunity to start to counsel people, and it was really an eye-opening experience for both of us to learn that our own military members are also victims of war in their own way. Because we were so moved by the stories, I think it really inspired us to try to get as much information into their hands as possible, to empower them to make their own decisions to take back control of their lives, because that’s not what you have in the military.
In addition to providing resources and information,
Quaker House staff also provide moral support
to military members facing difficult situations.
Steve Woolford: Yeah, a big part of our job is just listening to each person and hearing what the details of their case are, and looking for issues in their case that might make a difference and might be leads on some avenue for getting them the outcome they’re looking for. We get a lot of people calling us who have gotten so fed up with military life that they’ve already gone AWOL, which is absent without leave. That’s what they call it the Army and the Air Force. In the Navy and the Marines they call it UA, or unauthorized absence. So we get a lot of people who left, sometimes in a calculated way, sometimes they just got so fed up that they left without really thinking about what they’re doing, and they’re calling us trying to minimize the damage they’re in: how do I resolve this, ideally without going to jail and ideally without ruining the rest of my life?
Lenore Yarger: And another piece of what we’re doing when we talk to someone in the situations: they’re under a lot of stress, they feel the whole culture of the military is to make them feel that they are exceptional for feeling the way they are, that they are bad for feeling that they can’t do this, that they don’t belong there, that there is something wrong with them. So a big part of what we’re trying to do, just in our conversation with them or with their family member is to reassure them that this a very normal reaction to a very stressful environment; that there’s nothing wrong with you.
How to Call the Hotline
Steve Woolford: If you are someone in the military, or a family member of someone in the military, and you’re looking for help with issues you’re having, either you’re trying to get out of the military, or you have grievances or problems with the way things are going, you can call one of our counselors, you can use our toll-free number: 877-447-4487, and speak with a counselor about what’s going on. Our services are free, they’re confidential, and we’ll do what we can to try to help you look at different options you would have to look at different options to move forward with your situation.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.