Kevin Mills's Army Reserve unit is in the Persian Gulf now, but Kevin Mills isn't. He is hiding somewhere, his parents say, because he could never kill.

Even before the gulf crisis began in August, the 1989 graduate of Ballou High School in Southeast Washington had doubts about his military life, they said. In November, Mills, 19, applied to be a conscientious objector.

Early this month, before his request could be processed, Mills's unit, the 400th Military Police Battalion at Fort Meade, was ordered to the gulf. Mills went into hiding, his parents said.

"My beliefs became incompatible with the military during the first month of my basic training," Mills wrote on his conscientious-objector application. "And later it became a problem with my relationship with God and the reality that the military was a training ground for killing my fellow man."

Mills is the first known conscientious objector from the Washington area in a crisis that the Pentagon says has prompted few such requests from the 514,000 service men and women ordered to the gulf. His actions first came to public attention in a recent article in the Washington Afro-American.

Army spokesman Don McClow at Fort Meade said that Mills has disappeared and officials are in the process of declaring him absent without leave. If a soldier is found to have been AWOL for more than 30 days, he can be discharged dishonorably, sent to prison for a year and deprived of military pay.

As for Mills's request to be designated a conscientious objector, McClow said he would not discuss the case because it is still under review.

In the living room of the family's brick row house on a hill in Anacostia, his parents pulled out a canvas bag thick with the paper trail that began the day their son decided he had to get out of the Army.

Originally, he had wanted to be a police officer, enrolling in the police academy even before graduating from Ballou, where he was a good student, his parents said.

"He always wanted to do something where he felt he was helping people," said his mother, Edna Mills. "But I think he would have come to this point eventually, even if it was in the police department. We knew there would come the day when he would have to draw a gun on somebody, and Kevin could never do that."

As a cadet, Mills worked in various areas of the police department, getting an opportunity to see sides of life he had never known.

Mills wrote on his conscientious-objector application that his police work made him "more sensitive to {such issues as} poverty, employment, quality education and care for our homeless and oppressed people."

In April, before completing the cadet program, Mills joined the Army Reserve, encouraged by an older friend who painted a picture of the Army as a place to receive career training while getting paid. His parents said Mills made the decision without conferring with them. As a private, Mills was receiving about $750 a month, according to an Army spokesman.

Edna Mills said her son was sent to Fort McClellan, Ala., for basic training, but a change came over him there. "He started calling often. He seemed depressed. I'm sure that was when he realized he had made a mistake."

Mills wrote later that "although I was afraid to tell the proper authority, God kept pulling on my insides until I spoke up and dealt with the truth inside me."

After he was sent from Fort McClellan to Fort Meade in August, Mills would "spend a lot of time alone reading his Bible. He wouldn't eat. He was was very depressed," Edna Mills said.

On Nov. 18, more than three months after the start of the gulf crisis, he applied for status as a conscientious objector. That process seemed to be going well.

In general, once a person applies for this status, he must be interviewed by a military chaplain, an investigating officer and a mental health officer. Within 90 days, their findings are sent to the Department of the Army, where a board reviews them to make a final decision. A person could be discharged from service or simply placed in a noncombatant position.

His parents cited a letter dated Nov. 27 and signed by Army Chaplain Jim Pittman. After interviewing Mills, the chaplain wrote: "He expressed his determination to 'follow God's law, not man's law.' He believes killing a person is totally against God's law. Pvt. Mills' beliefs about Christianity are very basic and not fully developed. Yet he seems intense and determined to grow."

In a Dec. 13 memo, Capt. Joseph Luz, the Army's investigating officer, recommended that Mills be granted conscientious-objector status, saying the private "was very sincere."

Although none of the branches of the military reports a dramatic increase in the number of people applying for objector status, a spokesman for D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said her office is receiving a steady flow of inquiries by phone and mail from people asking how to file conscientious-objector claims.

As a result, Holmes is holding a congressional hearing Tuesday at which a representative of the Department of Defense is expected to explain the process.

An Army spokesman said the Army did not have a figure on the number of people who have applied for conscientious-objector status since Desert Shield began. The Navy has received 16 applications in that time, the Marine Corps seven and the Air Force 15.

On Feb. 28, Kevin Mills turns 20 and his family, which includes a younger sister, had hoped to celebrate.

"I wish there was an option that would let a father go {to war} in place of a son," said his father, who did not want his first name used. "The father has lived and the son is just beginning to live. My son is just growing, putting things together."