Amid the Drums of War, Michael Ange Marches to a Very Different Beat

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Growing up in Greenville, N.C., Michael Ange reveled in dreams of military derring-do. "He was always playing soldier," recalls his mother, Patricia, 46, a registered nurse. "A GI Joe was one of the first toys he had." As a teenager Ange became the commander of his ROTC battalion at D.H. Conley High School, and after graduation in 1982 he signed up for the National Guard Reserves. But when the call came for Operation Desert Shield, Ange's gung-ho attitude was one of the first casualties. Arguing that President Bush has no authority to deploy troops in the Middle East without the consent of Congress, Ange, 26, refused to ship out when his National Guard transportation unit left Fort Lee, Va., on Nov. 14. Instead the full-time student who is a sergeant in the Reserves sued the government. Last week, with his case still pending, Ange was accompanied by Army officials to the Norfolk Naval Air Station and put on a transport bound for Saudi Arabia. "I swore to defend the country and uphold the Constitution," he told PEOPLE before departing. "The Constitution is clearly under assault from the President."

With the prospect of an actual shooting war with Iraq becoming increasingly real, Michael Ange is not the only one who has begun to have second thoughts about U.S. policy in the Middle East. Some military personnel are voting with their feet, either by going AWOL or, like Ange, digging in their heels and petitioning to stay behind. So far the numbers are relatively small: An estimated 50 to 100 soldiers have filed as conscientious objectors, and last week Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Paterson, 22, from Hollister. Calif., went before a court-martial in Hawaii for refusing to get on a plane to the Gulf. Ange says his decision to challenge the government was especially hard for him because he has long felt a deep sense of duty to serve his country. In civilian life he worked for two years as a police, fire and rescue officer and two years as a sheriffs deputy in North Carolina towns and did undercover narcotics work for the state. Two years ago he transferred to the National Guard unit near Boone, N.C., and enrolled in the ROTC program at Appalachian State University, where he is a senior majoring in criminal justice.

Ange cites several reasons for balking at service in the Middle East. He argues that by beefing up U.S. forces in the Gulf to as many as 380,000 and talking about the possibility of offensive action, President Bush has flouted the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which requires that the Commander in Chief notify Congress within 48 hours of placing troops in situations where "imminent involvement in hostilities" is likely. "In the '60s we ignored constitutional restrictions on the President, and we wound up in Vietnam." says Ange. "A lot of people think that's where we're headed now." Beyond the question of legality, he also objects to Desert Shield on the moral ground that, as he sees it, no one should have to light and perhaps die for the sake of oil supplies. In his view, the armed forces should be limited to "defensive" operations. By embracing that position, however, Ange has made himself ineligible for conscientious-objector status, which can be granted only to those who oppose all forms of war.

Yet there are suggestions that Ange's motives might not be as high-minded as he insists. His roommate at Appalachian State told a reporter for the Washington Post that Ange's rebellion really stemmed from the fact that he was being pulled out of school in what was his final semester. (While conceding that he is annoyed at the interruption of his studies, Ange says that played no part in his decision.) Ange has also vigorously maintained that, constitutional issues aside, he is not medically fit for duty. Last year he disappeared from an ROTC training exercise, claiming that he had chronic knee and foot pains that needed treatment. As a result of that episode, he was in the process of being dropped from the ROTC program at Appalachian State when he was called up.

Ange's fiancée. Dorothy Brooks, 23, a law student at Campbell University in North Carolina, and mom Patricia, who has been divorced for nearly 10 years, are strongly behind him. "He thinks politicians should be running the country according to the Constitution, and he's got the guts to say so," says Patricia. The response from Ange's fellow National Guardsmen has been mixed. Sgt. Ric Moore, 42, another trooper at Fort Lee, is sure of one thing. "I disagree with him," says Moore, a Vietnam veteran. "If you accept the pay and the benefits, when war comes you gotta pay the price."

Ange may soon have an idea of what the bottom line will be for him. A hearing on his suit is set for federal district court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. A ruling against the government would likely mean Ange's immediate return to this country, though some experts wonder whether any court will be willing to strike such a blow to presidential authority in the current crisis. Perhaps oddly, the publicity from the controversy has set Ange thinking about a career in politics. "It's time," he says, "that we got somebody with a little bit of backbone in government."

—Bill Hewitt, Luchina Fisher at Fort Lee

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