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photo by Stefan Wray FEATURE Conscientious in Killeen Interview with former Staff Sergeant Steven Stippich BY STEFAN WRAY u ntil May, 31-year-old Steven Stippich was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. As he explained in a recent interview with the Observer, last year Stippich had what he describes as a moral epiphany. He realized that he could no longer do what he had been trained to do for 12 years as an active duty soldierkill people. He described his transformation in methodical, almost scientific terms, as he calculated the projected impact of a single enemy death. To his superior officers, Stippich had been a model soldier. But several of them admired his courage in coming forward, and with their guidance he filed for conscientious objector status. When the Fourth Infantry Divisionthe Army’s first digital divisionshipped off to Iraq, Stippich remained at Fort Hood and waited for word on his CO application. On May 8, 2003, he was honorably discharged as a conscientious objector. y father was in the National Guard, but he never saw any service there other than in the armory in Lima, Ohio. But there were things growing up that made me want to join the military. I still remember pretty clearly being in the sixth grade. We’d get a little newsletter in science class and it talked about a MIRV, a multiple independent re-entry vehicle, which is basically the business end of an ICBM. It was scaryknowing that we were very likely in the crosshairs ofat that timc a Russian ICBM. That was my motivation for enlisting. It sounded a lot better than war: If you have a strong military, you give the bad guy a moment of pause before he pulls the trigger. There were still 10,000 Russian tanks ready to roll over Western Europe and there were still nuclear weapons aimed at my family. Enlisting was part of what I saw as the solution. I enlisted in March of 1990. In November ’93 I started training as a tanker. I found it pretty fascinating, mechanically and academically. Of course, the guns and armorit’s intoxicating sometimes. Or it was then. In 1999-2000, when my enlistment was up, my intent was to get out. But I was selected for positions of increasing responsibility. I was given my own tank and went to what’s called master gunner’s school in August of 2001. Academically, it’s the hardest school that the military has. It kept me on my toes. But while I was there I saw things as very clinical. There was no emotion involved in anything: The path of the round is from Point A to Point B, passing through this parabolic arc, and then at this velocity with so much force upon impact. There was no thought about what was on the other end. The word “kill” in military culture isit’s hard to explain. It’s common; it’s very de-sensitized. You say it, but you don’t think about it. I was in this school at Fort Knox during September 11. It didn’t occur to me right then, but it occurred to me later that the premise of my enlistmentdeterrencehad failed. We were the biggest guys on the block. We had the biggest weapons, the most weapons. We had the best training. And it failed. We could no longer deter through sheer force. But from then we focused on training quite a bit. I really started to feel something coming up because I’d been given increasing levels of responsibility. When we got the new tanks, we became digitized. Not too long after I came back from the school, I went to the National Training Center in California for a rotation that is a brigade-level training exercise. I saw things really start to change. This was the summer of 2002. It just seemed like we were getting ready to do something. And that leads me to 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9/12/03