Spc. Jody Storozuk

Spc. Jody Storozuk (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)

MANNHEIM, Germany — Spc. Jody Storozuk is a good solider.

A big-rig truck driver for the Germany-based 70th Transportation Company, Storozuk has excelled in just about everything the Army has asked him to do.

He was a honor graduate at the driver’s academy, and last year he volunteered for combat duty in Afghanistan helping clear mines from Kandahar Airfield and rebuild the runway there.

With less than two years in uniform, he graduated among the top of his Primary Leadership Development Class, paving the way for him to pin on sergeant stripes.

His squad leader thinks highly of him. His platoon leader and company commander sing his praises. By all accounts, Storozuk should have a bright career in front of him.

The only problem is that Friday he’s getting kicked out of the Army.

Storozuk is not overweight, he doesn’t beat his wife and he hasn’t tested positive for drugs. Instead, Storozuk is getting the boot because he has kids.

In fact, Storozuk and his wife, Laura, have four kids. But in January, Laura had to go back to the States to care for her ailing father. By Army regulation, that meant Storozuk had to find someone who would be willing to care for his children in case he was deployed. And with his unit on the short list to go to Turkey, that was a very real possibility.

“No one in his chain of command wants him out of the Army,” said Storozuk’s platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Nathaniel Hicks. “We were trying to do our best to keep him.”

But after four months of trying to nail down what the Army calls a Family Care Plan, Storozuk’s leaders say they’ve been left will little choice.

Storozuk is among hundreds of soldiers who are kicked out of the Army every year for similar problems with the plan.

In fiscal 2002, there were 1,300 soldiers involuntarily discharged because of problems with their family care plan, according to Lt. Col. Stan Heath, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. An additional 240 were voluntarily discharged last year.

Storozuk says finding someone willing to care for four kids is easier said than done.

“I checked with everyone — my family, spouses — everyone I could think of,” he said. “Maybe if I had just one or two kids, but with four it was just too much, especially when my eldest is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and a junior in high school.”

Instead, Storozuk had hoped he could get a compassionate reassignment. In fact, he had been asking if that was a possibility from the beginning.

Originally, he and his wife had hoped to relocate her father to Germany. They had taken care of her father in the States, and Laura thought she might be able to convince him to move to Germany.

But he’s 82 and suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary lung disease, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, glaucoma and high blood pressure. His health only continued to deteriorate, making relocation problematic.

With her dad getting care just outside of Tampa, Fla., home of the U.S. Central Command, Laura had hoped that her husband could get reassigned there.

CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks had even personally offered Storozuk a job as his driver.

“Your background both in and out of the military is impressive,” wrote Franks, adding a handwritten “Proud of you!” at the bottom of the note.

Frank’s senior enlisted soldier at CENTCOM even weighed in.

“It may be worth letting compassion overrule regulation,” CENTCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Dwight Brown advised Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Peete of the 21st Theater Support Command, Storozuk’s parent command, in an e-mail message.

But every time Storozuk asked about getting a reassignment, he got conflicting signals from his chain of command. His company commander said it would never get approved, and Storozuk said his platoon sergeant told him flat-out that he couldn’t even ask.

Indeed, even now there seems to be confusion on that point.

“I told him that he could submit it, but the likelihood was very high it would be disapproved,” said company commander Capt. E. Sean Lanier.

Lanier said that because it was his father-in-law that was sick, Storozuk simply didn’t qualify for reassignment, implying that it it had been one of his own parents, it might have been a different story.

Plus, Lanier said Storozuk had only brought up the idea of a reassignment about a month ago.

Storozuk’s platoon leader, however, has a different take on things. He remembers Storozuk asking repeatedly about a compassionate reassignment as early as February and said he believed his soldier did qualify for consideration, but that the hectic pace preparing for deployment left little time to make it happen.

“What you have to realize is that we were looking at deploying any day,” Hicks said. “Storozuk was focusing too much on something that might take months.”

Whatever the case, there is at least agreement that an otherwise excellent soldier is now leaving the Army.

“I really like him,” said company commander Lanier. “I wish this had worked out differently.”

But Storozuk doesn’t understand why it couldn’t.

“None of this makes sense,” Storozuk said. “I’m just trying to be a good father and take care of my kids and for that I’m being thrown out of the Army.”

Perhaps most confusing is that while he has had spotless record and is being forced out, others in his unit have had major problems, yet remain.

“We had a guy show up drunk for duty, others have gotten DUIs, yet they get help and eventually they’re back on the road driving,” Storozuk said. “We’ve got another guy who hasn’t passed a PT test in more than a year. I just don’t understand the double standards.”

In response, Lanier remarked, “Those issues don’t pertain to him.”

As far Storozuk’s own issues, Lanier said, “I don’t want to sound cold, but everything was done procedurally correct.”

In the end, Army procedures may work in Storozuk’s favor.

He has already contacted an Army recruiter in Florida, who has told him that he can enlist back into the Army as soon as he gets home.

“I don’t lose any rank, I get to pick my choice of duty station and I can even change my MOS,” Storozuk said.

He does, however, lose any bonus money he would have received if had re-enlisted normally. And perhaps more importantly, his family must endure the stress of the situation, including pulling his children out of school early.

“When you add it all up, it just seems so damn stupid,” said Storozuk. “Everything would have been so much better if they had fixed this within my unit.”

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