Preparing Undeployables for the Afghan Front
Deploying the Undeployables
Not all soldiers go AWOL in order to save their minds and bodies. Some are trying to save their families. One soldier held in Bravo Platoon, a holdover unit of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs (who did not want his name made public) disclosed that, having returned from service in Iraq, he was told he would soon be redeployed there. Because his mother was ill, he refused and was threatened with a court-martial.
"When I turned myself in, I submitted a binder with letters from my mom's doctors and state officials that made clear that I needed to be home to take care of my mother. At that time, they had me on restriction and lockdown 24/7 to keep me from leaving again. Later they punished me. I was assigned extra duty and received a rank reduction from E3 to a private. I was treated like crap."
He and the other soldiers in his holdover platoon were subjected to verbal abuse and made to do menial jobs. He claimed that he was threatened daily with being sent to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the military's maximum security correctional facility--and then was urged to agree to go back to Iraq instead. It made no difference that he had "no-go" orders from doctors at Fort Carson exempting him from overseas deployment.
His commander promised him a clean slate if he would redeploy to Iraq, insisting that the only alternative was a court-martial. Despite a regimen of humiliation, he stood his ground and was finally discharged for family hardship in September 2008. There were at least eleven other soldiers then in Bravo Platoon. Like their counterparts in Echo, most were told that their records would be wiped clean once they agreed to redeploy. The alternative was a non-judicial punishment, followed by a court-martial some months down the line.
As he tells it, Sergeant Heath Carter, originally based at Fort Polk, Louisiana, found himself torn between pressing family needs and an indifferent military command. On returning from the invasion of Iraq, he discovered his daughter living in what he believed to be an unsafe environment. Heath and his new wife started consulting attorneys in order to secure custody of the child. Precisely during this time, the military began changing Carter's duty station. He was moved from Fort Polk to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, then on to Fort Stewart, Georgia, reducing his chances of gaining custody.
Convinced that this was a crucial matter for his daughter, he requested compassionate reassignment to Fort Leavenworth, Missouri, about two hours away from her. His appeals to the military command, to his chaplain, even to his Congressman failed. In May 2007, having run out of options, he went AWOL from Fort Stewart, heading home to fight for custody, which he won.
This January 25, however, he was arrested at his home by Military Police, who flew him back to Fort Stewart where he has been awaiting charges for the past eight months. Being a sergeant, he is in a regular unit, not a holdover one. Initially, his commander assured him he would be sent home within a month and a half. Several months later, the same commander decided to court-martial him.
Carter feels frustrated. "If they had done that in the beginning, I would have been home by now. It's taken this long for them to decide. Now I have to wait for the court-martial. If we had known it would take this long, my family could have moved down here. Every time I ask when I'll have a trial, they say it's only going to be another two weeks. I get the feeling they're lying. They've messed with my pay. They're trying to push me to do something wrong."
His ordeal has forced Carter to reflect on America's wars. Once, he admits, he was proud of his mission in Iraq. Now, he sees things differently. "I don't think there is any reason for us to be there except for oil."
His wife, who witnessed her husband's callous treatment, says, "He's been there [Iraq], done that, and seen horrible, terrible things, so of course he doesn't want to go back."
While the Obama administration decides how many thousands of troops to send to Afghanistan, servicemen and -women are already facing repeated deployments, oftentimes while having already been diagnosed with medical conditions that should render them unfit for deployment.
Nothing has changed for these beleaguered troops, except the venue of their maltreatment and the desperation with which the military is now struggling to make the necessary deployment numbers as it continues to fight two endless wars.