WüRZBURG, Germany — A Kitzingen-based 12th Chemical Company soldier was sentenced to six months’ confinement and a bad-conduct discharge Tuesday for desertion and being absent without leave.

Sgt. Jason Essmyer, who pleaded guilty to the charge of quitting his unit to avoid hazardous duty at Forward Operating Base Summerall, Iraq, also was reduced to the rank of private and must forfeit $800 per month for six months.

The March 11 charge against Essmyer stemmed from a four-month period from Aug. 31 to Dec. 29 when he did not return from rest and recuperation leave and remained in his hometown of Detroit.

Essmyer said family problems forced him to choose between the Army and his family. During his two weeks of leave, Essmyer said he learned that his wife had a cocaine habit, his mother had been evicted from her home and a friend was threatening to commit suicide.

He requested a leave extension from his company commander that was denied, and Essmyer said he chose to stay in Detroit primarily to help his mother find an apartment. His mother eventually refused his help, however, Essmyer said in an unsworn statement during sentencing testimony.

The family problems and guilt from being AWOL led to a breakdown and eight days of hospitalization in December at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Michigan, Essmyer said.

While admitted to the VA hospital, Essmyer said, he contacted his unit and later purchased a ticket with his own money to return to the unit in Germany.

More than a dozen soldiers from Essmyer’s unit filled the courtroom’s gallery in a show of support. Defense attorney Capt. Katie Robinson called four character witnesses during the sentencing phase who described Essmyer as a good noncommissioned officer who got the job done and had a good rapport with his soldiers.

Government attorney Capt. Treb Courie called 1st Sgt. William Backscheider, who testified that Essmyer’s e-mails to other soldiers in the unit while AWOL caused controversy and divided the unit.

Backscheider also recounted the stories of three soldiers who went on emergency leave for deaths in the family, and still returned to the unit.

In his unsworn testimony, Essmyer apologized to the court and to his unit for his actions.

“I would like to let it be known to the court and to my fellow soldiers that I am extremely sorry for leaving all of you,” he said.

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