Disabled Conscientious Objector and Veteran of first Gulf War Faces Prison Time for Standing Up for Free Speech Against Recruiters in a public library
Tim Coil, a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will go before a judge in Ohio on Tuesday, June 5 in a court case that may set a historical precedent over a citizen’s right to free speech inside a public library.
Coil was arrested in March on the stated charge of “causing a disturbance within a library”. Police were called on March 12 with regard to a complaint by the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library manager upset about the counter recruiting-related activities on the part of Tim, 40, and his wife, Yvette, 37. The librarian had called the police after the couple’s refusal to honor his demand that they stop opposing the recruiting efforts of two military recruiters trying to sign up a teen inside the library.
On the day of his arrest, Tim, a Conscientious Objector who served in Iraq in 1991, had come along to the Stow Library to read some books while Yvette, a student at Kent State University majoring in Conflict Management, planned to do homework. Neither had any intention of doing counter-recruiting that day when they first set foot in the library. In fact, the couple had never done any counter-recruiting before.
The Coils were reading when they noticed through a glass window a room in which two military recruiters with a stack of forms were trying to recruit a young man who Tim thought could not have been more than 17 or 18 years old. Not wanting to see the young man sign the military enlistment papers, Yvette asked permission from the library staff to put up index cards with messages on them that the young man would be able to see through the glass. The library employee stated that she did not see a problem with it, as long as there was no confrontation.
Tim said, “We weren’t trying to create a ruckus, in no way, shape, or form. We were just putting 3 by 5 cards up. And every time somebody [who worked in the library] would come over… we were like, ‘Wait a minute. Don’t we have first amendment rights? Shouldn’t you be standing up for our first amendment rights? We told that to the library director and to the police and to the recruiters who stole our [index] cards. They confiscated them”.
According to Yvette, “I just couldn’t sit there anymore and let them recruit. I just couldn’t. After sixteen years and going through what I did with Tim, I didn’t want…” her voice trailed. “I felt like it would be blood on my hands if I was okay with this guy enlisting… My point was always with the intention of honesty and good and truth. I didn’t want another guy to come back like Tim. I wanted him to be able to live a life that he could enjoy and not [live] in turmoil - like Tim has. So that was the only reason why I felt we should do what we did… I couldn’t live another day knowing that I was okay that somebody was being recruited.”
Coil’s attorney, William Whitaker, Esq., commented on the legality of Coil’s case and right to free speech: “If a statute punishes this conduct, then that statute is unconstitutional since it sweeps protected speech within its orbit,” he said. “They were engaged in protected First Amendment speech. It’s legitimate to use the public library in the same way that the recruiters were using it.”http://www.progressive.org/mag_mc051407
The key issue in Coil’s court case on Tuesday will be the violation of his Constitutional right of freedom of speech. When a police officer threatened Tim with arrest for “saying another word”, he realized that his order to be silenced – and subsequent right to free speech was being violated. As Coil was leaving, the upset vet exclaimed out loud, “Don’t recruit in the library”! After making this statement, one of the librarians smiled at Tim in obvious agreement with his counter-recruitment sentiment while Tim Coil was, nonetheless, promptly arrested.
In order to understand the motivation behind the actions taken by Tim and Yvette Coil that day, one must know a bit about the background of their counter-recruitment stance, which began sixteen years earlier. As a soldier who had refused to hold a combat position while an Army Sergeant inside Iraq, Tim’s bold actions and remarks inside the library originated in his experiences with the military that still haunt him to this day.
As a Conscientious Objector who has been twice invited to join the Christian Peacekeeper Team Delegation, Tim Coil prayed to God when he first received military orders in 1991 to go to Iraq. He made the decision to follow through with his orders, believing that God would want him to defend his nation. He made this decision even though his wife had just given birth to their firstborn only two days earlier.
Doing what he perceived as the “right thing” (i.e., serving his country in a non-violent capacity) seemed only natural to Tim, a Mennonite of strong spiritual faith. Although his conscience would not allow him to engage in combat, carry a weapon, or kill, Tim felt that serving in Iraq and going to the aid of his nation was the right thing to do – even given the fact that his wife was in the hospital, having just undergone a cesarean section two days earlier with their newborn son, and would be left alone in Germany to care for their first born. According to Tim, “My son was two or three days old when I left. I went back to Yvette,” he said, “and I explained to her that they [his supervisor] had threatened to take me in chains.”
Despite explaining his family’s situation, Tim’s supervisor reportedly did not inform him of the option of requesting a “family hardship” concession. This would probably have been granted since Yvette had just undergone major surgery, there was no one to help with a newborn, and she did not have a driver’s license to purchase groceries while in Germany. Instead, Tim’s supervisor had actually informed him that if he made the decision not to join them in Iraq, that they were going to come get him and drag him there anyway in chains.
After speaking with Yvette in the hospital, praying some more, and feeling a strong desire “to be loyal to God”, Tim reasoned, “Maybe it’s best that I go, but that I don’t carry a weapon, so that there’s no opportunity for somebody to be in my place and take that opportunity to kill somebody. I didn’t want somebody being in my shoes and then using a weapon and killing somebody. By me doing what I was doing, I felt like I was helping to prevent somebody from dying.”
So perhaps the real story is not so much about a warm-hearted veteran making a counter-recruitment comment after having his right to free speech violated after being ordered to silence by a police officer. More to the point, the story behind the story actually involves the sad tale of a mentally damaged, physically sick, and war-torn veteran suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who was willing to take a stand in a public place so that no other young person would be forced to experience what he had been put through in the military – and continues to go through – every day of his life.
Tim’s library “disturbance” was simply one of a disabled vet trying to stop a young man from being enlisted in order to save him from the hellish nightmare he had experienced as an Army sergeant in Iraq and in subsequent years thereafter.
In a phone interview, Tim Coil stated, “These are young kids, just like I was when I was younger. And it hurts to know that there are kids out there who are going to be just like me. They are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and they’re going to have mental injuries, physical injuries…. possibly not come back at all…” Tim’s sad voice disappeared into a long pause of silence. He added softly, “Basically, I was trying to show love for this kid, as a Christian”. NEXT PAGE
With a serious case of PTSD directly attributed by the Veteran’s Administration to his service in the first Gulf War, Tim Coil was discharged honorably after serving a five month tour of duty in Iraq, followed by a stay in Germany. While in Iraq, even though he worked in a direct support supply unit directly behind the front line of combat action, Tim Coil did “battle” with what could only be described as his own private hell.
Inside Iraq, Tim Coil experienced numerous retributions for taking a Conscientious Objector (i.e., non-killing) stance. He was threatened by a fellow soldier who informed Tim that he was going to kill him. None of the men in his company wanted anything to do with Tim - and thus, he existed in social isolation. Due to his moral stance on being a Conscientious Objector, he was held in general disdain, called a coward, and received threats of physical harm. From his supervisors Tim faced the reprisals of being delegated the very worst jobs imaginable, such as being put in charge of burning human feces.
Another such job given to Coil, because he was, as he described it, seen as “the most expendable” [due to his non-killing stance] was being the soldier made to drive the unit’s most dangerous vehicle, the oldest five thousand gallon diesel fuel truck. During one such excursion, a fellow soldier was overheard saying that he found out that he had to ride with Tim, and announced that if Coil slowed him down, he would shoot him and simply say that a sniper did it. On another occasion, a high-ranking commanding unit officer, upon discovering that the truck Tim was driving broke down, reportedly told him, “Sergeant Coil, if I find out that you intentionally damaged this vehicle, I will shoot you here and now”.
On another occasion, another person in his unit placed a scorpion inside his boot. Once, another soldier’s gun was placed under Tim’s bunk and the claim was made that he had stolen it. Continuously throughout his five month stint inside Iraq, Tim was threatened with bodily harm from inside his own unit, and even those he thought of as friends were antagonistic due to his refusal to engage in missions that included killing. As Tim sadly admitted, “Not only did what we consider the “enemy”, which is the Iraqis, did I have to worry about being shot or killed or blown up by them, but I had to watch my back around the people I was with”.
As the only Conscientious Objector in his unit, Tim was treated as the “black sheep” with whom no one wanted to associate. After spending five months in Iraq, Tim was sent back to Germany where he filled out paperwork to be released from the Army officially as a Conscientious Objector. After submitting his paperwork, he expected that his superiors would take up to the ninety (90) days allowable by military regulations to either approve or deny his request. Instead, Tim claims that his paperwork sat on a General’s desk for between six to nine months. [Note: According to an unconfirmed source, orders were given from high in the chain of military command during that time period that Conscientious Objector requests were not to even be considered].
Meanwhile, Tim Coil was harassed and given an unlawful order that he would not perform, and an attempt was made to try to intimidate, then Court Martial him, and transfer him to another unit. According to Coil, the charges were groundless and were subsequently dropped. It appears that everything possible was done to make Tim Coil’s military experience as unpleasant as humanly possible.
Adding injury to his insults, however, Tim did not realize it at the time, but he was, unknowingly facing an even more formidable threat. In Germany, Tim was starting to exhibit some new and unusual symptoms including those befitting the diagnosis of PTSD with severe anxiety, thoughts he considered uncharacteristic of him, a constant desire to be alone, and fits of uncontrollable rage.
Despite the fact that a VA psychiatrist stated that Tim had PTSD and/or other mental illnesses as a result of the Gulf War, the VA has awarded him no disability monies. Now struggling with the near-impossible task of not only locating members of his unit from 16 years ago but finding any who might be sympathetic who served with him in 1991 and might verify his experiences in order to get awarded military related disability benefits is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.
To this day, Tim continually entertains the possibility that he was poisoned with Uranium from munitions used in Iraq. As the driver who rode first in a line of diesel fuel trucks that routinely moved through battlefields, his truck would be the first to drive over ammunition - unexploded ordnance and rocket-propelled grenades. Many times, Coil’s truck would pass only ten to fifteen feet from tanks that were blown up and contaminated with Depleted Uranium with the charred corpses of soldiers who had tried to climb out of the tanks, now motionless on the ground, out in the open air.
At other times, in the distance, Tim could see the glow of tanks ablaze and contaminated with burning radioactive Uranium aerosols. On one occasion, a Cobra helicopter filled with Uranium munitions was hit while still in the air, exploding approximately one-quarter mile away. During all drives in his diesel fuel-carrying vehicle, dust was kicked up from the sand, and four inches of the radioactive ultra-fine sand particles stuck to Tim’s truck on top of the sticky diesel fuel residue. The truck was not air-conditioned, and Tim and other soldiers were, out of necessity, forced to keep the windows open and inhale the circulating dust and eat their food inside the dusty vehicles.
After experiencing a multitude of mental problems and medical issues, four years ago Tim started going to the Veteran’s Administration for testing and treatment. He was told that a urine test was done there for Uranium and that the results were normal.
According to information on the Uranium Medical Research Center website ( www.umrc.net ) when testing a veteran’s urine, the military uses data from The National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/ to rule out any veterans with less than 50 ng/l of uranium in their urine excretions.
This, according to the UMRC, does not properly represent the biokinetic facts of uranium contamination due to inhalation, and it also reportedly misuses the Center for Disease Control findings. The UMRC website states that “By the time a veteran sees a DVA physician, post-deployment (and the rule is that no urine is collected for DU analysis in the theater of war) the levels of uranium will have dropped, often below the cut-off of 50 ng/l. DU becomes incorporated into organs, lung tissue, bones and the circulatory system. Through incorporation and clearance of the contaminant and possible dysfunctional effects on kidneys, the veterans may not present with the quantities considered Significant”.
Uranium poisoning affects behavior. In 2005, while hospitalized due to serious mental issues, a VA psychiatrist told Tim that he had one of the worst cases of PTSD he had ever seen. Tim clearly stated his belief about his contamination by Uranium on the battlefield: “I do believe that I do suffer with Depleted Uranium poisoning, because going through the battlefields, and the dust that was kicked up in front of me, there was four inches of hard-packed dust mixed up with diesel fuel on the back of my truck and there was dust all over inside my truck. The inside of my truck looked like sand”.
These days a host of complications plague Tim Coil’s daily existence. His symptoms are numerous: a low thyroid condition necessitates medication for the rest of his life, as well as hot and cold flashes, night sweats, irritable bowel syndrome, frequent fatigue, a non-healing rash on his fingers, breathing difficulties that require use of an asthma inhaler, low testosterone levels, back and joint pain, obesity due to thyroid imbalance, sensitivity to light, rotting teeth due to loss of blood flow caused by teeth clenching, night sweats, anxiety, flashbacks that cause major sleep disorders, and metabolic imbalances. Next month Tim will undergo an MRI as physicians suspect that Tim is suffering from an organic brain dysfunction.
After describing his symptoms Tim adds, “There was radioactivity in the dust. When these weapons blow up, a lot of that dust wound up being 5 microns. I’m sure that I breathed it in. I was wallowing around in it all. It was all over my skin and clothes. I know that I was exposed to it…. You can’t tell me that I wasn’t exposed to Depleted Uranium”. NEXT PAGE
With a marked increase of the amount of Uranium munitions used in Iraq since 1991, the number of disabled veterans experiencing symptoms like Tim Coil’s are sharply growing. According to a March 8, 2007 New York Times article, veterans’ disability claims from 2006 alone numbered 378,296. Claims from returning war veterans plus those from previous periods reportedly increased by 39 percent from 2000 to 2006. In addition, the VA expects to receive about 800,000 new claims in both 2007 and again in 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/09/washington/09veterans.html
Thus, upon learning his background and medical and physical condition today, there are understandably many good reasons for Tim Coil’s desire to protect a young man from the military that March day inside the library.
Tim is neither ashamed nor timid about his beliefs and recently stood firm when an offer was made to prevent Coils from having to present his case in court. On May 10, Yvette Coil’s attorney was advised by the Court that the state would drop charges if they would pay $100 in court fees. The Coils were unwilling to pay this fee on principle, as they believe that Tim was arrested unjustly and that their right to freedom of speech had been violated. Instead, if the court should find him guilty, Tim faces a 30-day jail prison term which would be deleterious to his mental status, as well as incur fines that could amount to hundreds of dollars.
Tim has received no disability funding from his honorable military service. He relies on Social Security Disability payments to support his family of four. When I asked how others could assist Tim and his family, both Tim and Yvette chimed in unison, “prayers”.
In addition to prayers, the Coils also require financial assistance to pay their attorney’s fee and court costs. So far $1750 has been donated for fees that will run in excess of $5,000. The Coils ask that you please send donations to: Tim and Yvette Coil, PO Box 732, Hudson, Ohio 44236
The court case is scheduled for Tuesday, June 5 at 8:30 a.m. at the Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court, Second floor, 310 2nd St, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221. Residents of Ohio who believe Tim Coil’s rights were violated are welcome to come and show their support.
Details of discussions concerning the counter-recruiting messages written on index cards to the young man, ensuing conversations between the library manager and the police, as well as other details of the event are well-documented in “The Progressive” at http://www.progressive.org/mag_mc051407 . Yvette Coil’s story, told in her own words can be read at: http://www.motherspeak.org/articles/coils.php .
Cathy Garger is a freelance writer, public speaker, activist, and a certified personal coach who specializes in Uranium weapons. Living in the shadow of the national District of Crime, Cathy is constantly nauseated by the stench emanating from the nation's capital during the Washington, DC, federal work week.