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WüRZBURG, Germany — Plagued with family problems back in the United States, Pfc. Christopher Williams said he couldn’t get his Iraq-deployed unit to give him emergency leave. So he took off on his own, three different times.

For that, Williams, 20, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 101st Military Intelligence Battalion will lose his Army career. In a court-martial Tuesday, the military judge, Col. Stephanie Browne, found him guilty of three counts of absent without leave and one count of disobeying an order.

“His actions sorely taxed an already undermanned unit,” said Capt. Don Noble, the military prosecutor. “He could have helped his family much better if he’d stayed on task and followed the 1st ID motto, ‘Duty First.’ ”

According to testimony from fellow soldiers, Williams had been a solid soldier until late last year, when he suffered a run of family tragedy.

Williams told the court three friends were murdered in a drive-by shooting. His older brother’s entire family was hit by a truck. His wife, who remained in the States with the couple’s son, had cancer, was suicidal, and was pregnant with a child fathered by Williams’ cousin.

Then in early February, a few days before the 101st MI deployed to Iraq, Williams learned his younger brother was in a coma after an epileptic seizure. He said his commander denied a request for emergency leave.

Within days he was sent back to Germany for a psychiatric evaluation. He said he sank deeper into depression when the unit refused to let him go home.

“I felt like they weren’t doing anything for me, so I just left,” Williams told the court. He went AWOL three times for a total of 100 days, staying with a friend off-base because he lacked a passport to go to the States. He was jailed July 7.

“He feels so confused and so alone,” said his attorney, Capt. Debra Quanbeck. “He doesn’t know what to do.”

But Capt. Tanya Burke, the unit’s rear detachment commander, said Williams told her about nothing except his marital problems and his brother’s epilepsy. She said he never formally requested leave and didn’t attend required counseling sessions.

Browne sentenced Williams to serve eight months in prison and forfeit all pay, reduced him to the lowest enlisted rank and gave him a bad-conduct discharge. An agreement with prosecutors cut the jail time to six months.


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