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AWOL Mom: I Can't Go Back To Iraq

post #1 of 3
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AWOL Mom: I Can't Go Back To Iraq
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 10, 2003

As Simone Holcomb sees it, her choice is between duty and family. She has chosen family, and now the military may punish her.

Holcomb, an Army medic married to an Army sergeant, refused an order to return to duty in Iraq because it could have meant losing two of their seven children in a custody battle.

"For me to get on a plane and abandon my children would be against the law," Holcomb said Wednesday. "And I don't know how any parent on Earth could leave without knowing how they're going to be taken care of."

Holcomb says her commanders in Iraq have informed her by e-mail that she is absent without leave - AWOL.

"I let them know I couldn't come back," said Holcomb, in an interview with KCNC-TV in Denver. "I do have this responsibility."

Responsibility is the issue, says the army, in a statement: "She has a responsibility to her children and a responsibility to the army. The army would like to see the issue resolved."

Holcomb, 30, and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn Holcomb, 40, lived with their children at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs when both were sent to Iraq in February.

Family members were taking care of their children, but the couple returned on emergency leave in September when Vaughn Holcomb's ex-wife went to court to get full custody of two of the children from their previous marriage.

A judge said one of the Holcombs had to remain home or they would lose custody. Simone Holcomb said she decided to stay because she is a reservist while her husband has 20 years of active-duty service and is near retirement.

She also said her husband, a tank platoon sergeant with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, would be more sorely missed by his unit. He is now back in Iraq.

"I'm home on emergency leave," concedes Simone Holcomb, "but I'm gonna do whatever it takes to make sure my kids are cared for."

The Army requires two-soldier families to agree on custody plans before deployments so that children are taken care of, said Col. Rich Thomas of Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta.

"When there are extenuating circumstances, we obviously want to find a solution to work for both sides," he said.

Army officials in the United States said they could not confirm Simone Holcomb's status without talking to her unit commanders in Iraq.

Officials said the punishment for going AWOL ranges up to discharge or imprisonment. Holcomb said she has been told only that she would forfeit all her pay since disobeying the order to return to Iraq, but hasn't been told what other measures she might face.

The Army inspector general is reviewing the case, said a spokesman for Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., who intervened at Simone Holcomb's request.

Holcomb said her commanders had been sympathetic, extending her leave when the court process dragged. She still thought they would help even after they rejected her request to be taken off active duty on Oct. 3, within hours of the final custody hearing.

"We're all human beings and most of us are parents. Just that normal human bond I thought would work wonders," she said.

Vaughn Holcomb's mother, Susan Bearer, who helped care for the children while the parents were in Iraq, wonders why the Army hasn't reassigned her daughter-in-law so she could stay in the Army while caring for her family.

"We want them to put her back on duty at Fort Carson, like before," Bearer said. "Let her do her service there where she could still be with the children."

Holcomb has told the children she's not leaving again, but she doesn't think they believe her. They know she's worried.

"For them, the Army is bigger than the world and it holds the strings to all of us," Holcomb said. "I feel terrible because I make these promises and now the Army could take it all away."

Just curious...what do you guys think about this?
post #2 of 3
1. I think it is pretty crappy of the ex-wife to file for custody while both parents are in a war zone, especially since the children were in fact taken care of.

2. I think it is pretty crappy that this family is put in this situation at all, because the order of the judge puts them in a situation where they either give up their family or disobey direct orders by the military. No win situation either way.

3. I think it is pretty crappy that the military, after hearing the judges order, won't make it work for the mother to stay stateside while still serving.

Overall, I think the whole situation stinks!
post #3 of 3
She is in a no win situation. I wonder which has the higher jurisdiction (not sure if that's the best word), civil or military law? I know if it were me in that situation, I would do just what she's doing.
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