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Letters to the Editor
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Once more, with feeling


Regarding Jim Reed’s recent cover story, “Accelerando”, first let me thank you for your interest in classical music in our region. And also I commend Georgia Southern University for seeking to provide more performance opportunities for the students. However, I was deeply disappointed to see the myth that orchestras are closing down all over the country repeated in Connect Savannah for the second time in recent weeks. 

A few weeks ago you printed a letter I wrote in response to the interview with Andre Watts. That article contained the unsubstantiated claim that “Small-market symphonies, like Savannah’s, are folding all over the U.S.” Anyone familiar with the orchestra scene in this country knows that this is not true.

 Last fall Henry Fogel of the American Symphony Orchestra League gave a talk in Hilton Head. The ASOL consists of over 370 professional orchestras, and Mr. Fogel stated that in the last five years there have been nine bankruptcies, and out of those nine, five are back in operation. That leaves four out of 370 orchestras that have closed down and not reopened. A “downward spiral”? It hardly seems like it.

The current article goes on to state that “All involved agree that the difficulties in financing a full-size orchestra have become almost insurmountable in this day and age. . .”

What about those 370 orchestras in the ASOL? Right here in our region, we have many orchestras that are doing just fine. These include orchestras in Hilton Head, Jacksonville, Macon, Columbus, Charleston, Atlanta (including the main symphony, the opera orchestra, and several others), Augusta, Greenville, Columbia, Beaufort, Myrtle Beach, Brunswick, Valdosta, Chattanooga, Charlotte, and so on.

If you have some statistics to back up the claim that it is impossible to finance an orchestra, or that orchestras are closing down all over the country, please share them with us. As a professional musician in touch with many people in the industry around the country, it appears that the opposite is true – orchestras are thriving here in this country.

Peter Berquist

Editor’s Note: The section of the article you refer to provided background for a quote from Ben Roach, a well-informed source. Clearly there’s a basis for differing interpretations of the issue.


Monica Benderman writes


When a soldier no longer wants to fight, when his conscience tells him that he can no longer believe in the mission and commanders order that soldier back to combat against his will, there is something wrong.  

There is something very wrong when commanders send that soldier to jail simply because they cannot control what he believes, and what he believes scares them.  

My husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, chose to no longer participate in war.  He followed the Army regulations, filed a Conscientious Objector application, and acted honorably every step of the way. 

His unit commanders chose to punish him for not allowing them to control him with their threats, and my husband went to jail simply because his commanders had no integrity, no honor and no respect for the very constitution they had given a sworn oath to uphold.

Sadly – the military administration has sided with my husband’s commanders to this point.  At any time, any member of the military hierarchy could have stepped in and ordered the command to abide by the regulations. 

Instead, the military powers that be chose to turn a deaf ear to the truth and the facts, and allow the continued mistreatment of one of their own – a veteran who has served with distinction for ten years. 

The sworn testimony given verbatim in the Record of Trial from my husband’s court martial, clearly shows an incompetent command; a command that lied, mishandled their administration of my husband’s request, and fabricated evidence after the fact.

It shows a command that had no knowledge of the regulations, no idea how to respond to my husband’s request and admittedly made no effort to learn.

The company commander stated for the record that “Sgt. Benderman is just one soldier out of 191 that I command.  I did not have time to worry about him.”  He went on to admit that he “was not aware of the proper procedures for handling Sgt. Benderman’s request, but if he had been he would have taken steps to correct his actions.”

On five separate occasions, the Command Sgt. Major of the battalion gave sworn testimony regarding a meeting he requested with my husband to discuss his Conscientious Objector application. These sworn testimonies contradicted each other with regard to several of the facts that, had the truth been told, would have exonerated my husband before there ever was a court martial. 

On the witness stand, this Sgt. Major was questioned about the fact that his sworn statements contradicted each other, and was asked if they were indeed his statements.  He confirmed that he had made each one, and went on to state that none of those had been the truth; that he was telling the truth in the courtroom that day. 

The first statement given was most accurate, having been made right after the meeting with my husband.  Subsequent statements appeared to change as the prosecutors needed to bend the rules to make their allegations fit. 

The “truth” on the stand was remembered 7 months later, noticeably altered from the original testimony, also given under oath. 

Also included in the Record of Trial for my husband’s court martial was a statement made by the Convening Authority overseeing the court martial – the Acting Commander of Ft. Stewart, Georgia.  During the first week of February 2006, this commander had a meeting with the Staff Judge Advocate at Ft. Stewart. 

He stated that he would not accept a plea bargain, and he wanted to make sure that my husband went to jail for “no less that 18 months.” This is the man who would ultimately determine whether all procedures and regulations had been properly followed during the court martial process, and approve the final outcome of the trial.  

The question here – why had he already determined my husband’s guilt – and for what crime was he expecting to sentence my husband? There was not even an investigation into the charges that they would consider bringing against my husband until a week after the commander held this meeting. 

My husband has now served 8 months in jail, apparently because the commanders of the U.S. military are not bound by the oaths they take. The commanders of the U.S. military have a choice – they can abide by their personal integrity and lead by following the rules, or they can make up the rules as they go along -- so much for integrity.

My husband was eligible for parole on January 27, 2006.  According to the Dept. of the Army Regulations 190-47, the rules governing the operations of military corrections facilities, the command of the correctional facility where he is incarcerated should have held a hearing regarding my husband’s request for parole in December 2005; no later than 30 days prior to his eligibility date. 

The command did not set the date for his hearing until mid-January, and it was finally held on February 15, 2006.  Three weeks later they got around to sending their recommendations to the Parole Board in Virginia. 

Apparently, it does not matter where the commanders of the U.S. Army are stationed, or what their assignment – few of them seem bound by the oaths they take. 

For ten years, Sgt. Kevin Benderman served the Army of this United States with honor and integrity. He received nothing but commendations and outstanding evaluations, and not one derogatory counseling statement. Kevin went to Iraq and performed his duties with the same integrity and honor that he gave to all aspects of his service. 

After firsthand experience, knowing that he could no longer participate in war, recognizing it as “the greatest form of man’s inhumanity to man” he prepared to leave the military when his enlistment expired. The U.S. Army refused to let him go peacefully and issued him a stop/loss order. 

Following regulations, and staying true to himself and his beliefs, Kevin submitted a Conscientious Objector application in spite of a Company chaplain who would rather “debate” Kevin than assist him in his legal request and a Company commander who believed that threats, intimidation and character attacks would convince my husband to bend to his will. 

The actions of the command make a statement loud and clear.  It is not the statement they would like us to believe, however. 

While their public statements mentioned that the sentencing of my husband was meant to “show other members of the military that they could not use Conscientious Objection as a way to avoid service in Iraq,” their actions show nothing more than cowardice in the face of moral courage and personal integrity; two character traits sorely lacking in many of the commanders my husband has been forced to serve with for the past three years. 

When called to hold themselves accountable to the oaths they took, these men failed miserably. At a time when leadership at all levels is sorely needed these men showed clearly why this country is in the mess we’re in. 

Monica Benderman


Editor’s Note: Monica is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, currently serving a 15-month prison sentence at Ft. Lewis, Wash., for “missing movement” when he failed to return to his 3rd Infantry Division unit for a second tour of duty in Iraq. He was also reduced in rank to private and dishonorably discharged. Benderman was acquitted of an accompanying, and more serious, charge of desertion.