For 16 years, Lenore Yarger and Steve Woolford have answered the phone at the G.I. Rights Hotline, a number military service members can call for free and confidential counseling on benefits, regulations, discharges, grievances, and what it means to be a conscientious objector. The hotline is sponsored in part by Fayetteville's Quaker House, which has been advocating for peace since 1969.
Yarger said she and her husband came to the hotline as peace activists, initially knowing little about military life.
"We knew of soldiers on the other side of the fence, during protests or different demonstrations we had been a part of," said Yarger. "So this work just gave us an incredible opportunity to actually get to know soldiers and what they go through, to hear their stories and to have a personal relationship with them. On that level this work has been extremely rewarding."
Along with other hotline workers, the couple fields calls from all over the world. Some come from service members who have had a change of heart and find themselves morally opposed to war. Yarger and Woolford coach them through the lengthy process of gaining an honorable discharge from the military.
"We don't always win," said Woolford. "And that's hard in cases where I think we're completely right, so sometimes it does feel just heartbreaking."
The most fulfilling part of their work, he said, is helping soldiers find their voice.
"A lot of people think they're stuck in a situation and just don't realize the options they have."
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org