BONN -- U.S. Army Sgt. Perry Mitchell has declined to accompany his unit to the Persian Gulf, filing for status as a conscientious objector.

Mitchell's objection: Nukes.

He's for 'em.

The 36-year-old floor tiling salesman from Orlando, Fla., has short-circuited his military career and is risking court-martial and prison because he feels the United States should use the Big One against Iraq. With a conventional war, he says, too much American blood will be spilled.

And so he remains here, in the same company as the dozens of pacifists and religious soldiers who concluded they could not fight in the gulf conflict because they could not take lives. Mitchell has little in common with his fellow objectors.

"I'm not a nut ... but I've given this a great deal of thought," he says. "When President Bush decided to add another 250,000 troops to the 200,000 we already had in Saudi {Arabia}, it sounded to me like we were preparing an offensive force for a conventional ground war. Well, I voted for President Bush, but when you're playing war, you're not really playing. When it's time for action, I believe in acting. This is what I consider the nuclear age."

Mitchell welcomes the initial success of Operation Desert Storm, but it hasn't altered his belief that the United States needs to send Saddam Hussein a nuclear message.

"The whole situation could have been eliminated on the first day," he said Saturday night. "You load those warheads onto the Tomahawks, throw them into Iraq and you don't have to risk the lives of all our pilots. One nuclear burst would send Saddam the message that he obviously hasn't gotten yet."

Mitchell and nuclear weapons have a long and close relationship. In 1984, Mitchell left a cozy, if dull, life as a traveling flooring salesman and vice president of the Central Florida Floor Covering Association and signed up to be all he could be.

"I got in for the excitement, action and adventure," he says. "The movie 'Stripes' was out then. And I have to tell you, I was very interested in the nuclear aspect."

The Army has been good to Mitchell, putting him through college and even fulfilling his desire to work on the nuclear side of the operation.

Mitchell got a job as a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons officer, in charge of handling his unit's protective masks, decontamination equipment and radiation meters.

But last Nov. 26, when Mitchell approached his commanders and told them he would not be accompanying the 18th Infantry Regiment to Operation Desert Shield, the sergeant and the Army had a falling out.

In a letter to his commander, Mitchell wrote, "I would be willing to launch the first nuclear weapon against" Iraq. Mitchell said he joined the Army to defend Americans, "not to see my fellow military members die needlessly because our political leaders are afraid of what the world will think."

"My commander said he understood my position," Mitchell says. "Anybody who knows me knows I don't like killing, but they also know that I believe in doing what has to be done. Any time I go off at night, I'll carry a gun because the world is not a friendly place."

Mitchell's commanders could not be reached because they are all in Saudi Arabia, but an Army spokesman said Mitchell may be charged with "intentional missing of movement." If convicted, he faces two years in prison, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge.

Mitchell has "not a chance of succeeding" in his claim for objector status, according to Michael Marsh, military counselor at the War Resisters League in New York. "There is no legal precedent for a claim like this." Defense Department regulations recognize moral, ethical or religious opposition to war of any kind, but the military and the courts have consistently turned down any selective objection to war.

Even so, Mitchell thus far has been treated less severely than some other objectors who refused to go to the gulf.

Army regulations say applications for objector status are to be processed wherever a unit has been deployed, and at least five U.S. soldiers based in Germany who are seeking objector status have been placed in handcuffs and forced aboard transports headed for Saudi Arabia, according to objectors, family members and Army spokesmen.

When Mitchell's unit packed up and flew out Dec. 24, the objector was handcuffed and taken into custody by Military Police. But then, as Mitchell says, "I got lucky."

His commander decided Mitchell was not likely to flee and told the MPs to release their prisoner. "I was willing to go to jail," Mitchell says. "I had pretty much planned to stay in the Army for 20 {years}. That's probably changed now. I know you're supposed to follow orders in the military. But I had to do the right thing."

Mitchell is now doing odd jobs around the base, still living in Gelnhausen, Germany, with his wife and three young children, waiting to hear how the Army will handle his case -- a matter that does not seem to be of the highest priority to the military at the moment.

"I agree our country will beat Iraq in a conventional war," Mitchell says. "But at what cost in American lives? I don't want another of those Vietnam walls with all those names on it. I'm basically trying to avoid personal guilt."