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Army spouse Eva McNeely holds photographs of her daugther, Yasmine, 4, and husband, Sgt. Bryan McNeely, at Grafenwöhr last Sunday.

Army spouse Eva McNeely holds photographs of her daugther, Yasmine, 4, and husband, Sgt. Bryan McNeely, at Grafenwöhr last Sunday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — U.S. Army Sgt. Bryan McNeely was in Iraq last year when he found out that his wife, Eva, was stranded in Germany.

She still is, caught in a legal bind.

McNeely, who handles military dogs, has been fighting since March to get his wife home to the States and reunite her with the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Yasmine.

Eva, 33, lived in Saudi Arabia with her German father and Saudi mother until she was 16.

Then she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, U.S. Army Col. David Miklik, at Fort McClellan, Ala.

Although Eva still holds a German passport, 17 years spent in the U.S., on a student visa have given her the accent and manners of a typical Southerner. She attended Weaver High School in Alabama and went on to study at several community colleges and universities in preparation for medical school, which she said she planned to attend this year.

In July 2003, Bryan McNeely and Eva married. Yasmine was born in 2004 and a year later Bryan set off on his first deployment to Iraq. He deployed there again in March of last year.

It was during his second deployment that Eva’s student visa and German passport expired. When she asked immigration officials what she should do, their advice was to go to Germany, renew the passport and come home, she said.

"I thought since we were married and I had a Social Security card and driver’s license and military ID, I didn’t think about the paperwork. I had everything a normal person has over there — a car, a house, a family, student loans, a dog," she recalled.

In Germany, the new passport was issued within a few days and Eva flew back to the States.

The nightmare started soon after Eva’s plane touched down in Atlanta on Oct. 10, 2007.

"They detained me at the airport and interrogated me for seven hours. They were so nasty, saying things like ‘Damn Nazis.’ I’ve never lived in Germany. The next day I had to fly back with Lufthansa. They had denied me entry to the U.S.," she said.

Her husband found out about his wife being stranded while he was deployed.

"I was more angry than anything," Bryan McNeely said.

Communication with Eva was difficult while he was in Iraq, which made the immigration problem even more frustrating, he said.

"The hardest thing was I couldn’t get to the fax machine. We had to wait for the mail to get out. The mail leaving Iraq isn’t exactly fast," he said.

When Bryan returned to Fort Knox, Ky., in March after a year at Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Falcon supporting 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, his wife was still in Germany.

Since then he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anger and depression, he said.

His Iraq experiences, which included the loss of friends in combat, are the major factor, but his wife’s problem has contributed to his difficulties, Bryan said.

"It is a pain coming back from deployment and, after 12 months in a combat zone, I come back and my family is torn apart. The whole situation is mind-blowing," he said.

When Bryan sees Yasmine she asks for Mommy, he said.

"She asks, ‘When is she coming back?’ I don’t know how to answer that," he said.

Almost a year after she arrived in Germany, Eva is still here, living in a cheap guesthouse in Neumarkt — about an hour from Grafenwöhr — and making regular trips to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt to try to get home.

Paperwork from the consulate states that the reason she was denied entry is because of a 1999 marijuana possession conviction. Eva had 400 grams of marijuana (slightly less than one pound) in her possession, though she served no time for her conviction.

A letter of pardon from the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, issued in November 2005, has not persuaded the consulate to grant a waiver. Nor have appeals to senators or letters from Eva’s husband and his chain of command, she said.

"The first letter my husband wrote they said wasn’t emotional enough. The consulate confiscated my German passport nine months ago and they only gave it back last week," she said.

Meanwhile, Yasmine is being cared for by family and friends in Alabama, she said.

"I haven’t seen my daughter in nine months. The only contact is pictures and e-mails. I’m watching her grow up on the Internet," Eva said.

The cost of surviving in Germany and dealing with the consulate means Bryan and Yasmine can’t afford to fly to Germany to visit, she added. And her military ID card recently expired, meaning she can’t access American facilities here.

In an effort to help his wife get back home, Bryan re-enlisted for three years in March, although he had planned to leave the Army to help his brother with a family fencing business in Idaho this year, he said.

Officials told the couple that Eva would have more chance of being allowed back into the States if her husband was a servicemember, but so far it has not helped, he said.

This month, the consulate declined Eva’s application for re-entry stating that the pardon for her marijuana conviction was not valid in this case because it was not signed by the Alabama governor or the president, according to a consular letter.

In an e-mailed statement on Monday, consulate public affairs officer James W. Seward said visa decisions are confidential and that he could not discuss individual cases.

"Drug convictions generally render individuals permanently ineligible for a visa." he said.

The only waiver available for adults convicted of a drug felony is if the conviction were for simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, Seward said.

"For a pardon to be effective in removing the ineligibility it must be full and unconditional and issued by the chief executive of the jurisdiction concerned, e.g. the President of the United States or of the appropriate Governor for state violations or the Mayor for municipal violations," he said.

Eva said she has tried to get a pardon from the governor, but was told by Alabama officials that a pardons board pardon should be sufficient.

Bryan McNeely said the couple has 30 days to file an appeal or his wife will be permanently barred from the U.S.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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