Airman who went AWOL from Osan court-martialed, sentenced
October 26, 2006
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — An airman who said he went absent without leave from Osan Air Base to escape a possible court-martial and jail time got both Tuesday for the same act he hoped would keep him free.
Airman Christopher R. Neal, 21, of the 51st Communications Squadron, was sentenced to 10 months in jail and loss of pay after pleading guilty to being AWOL and to breaking restriction.
But in a pretrial agreement, Neal’s jail term was set at eight months. Because he was jailed for 69 days before trial, he’ll spend less than six months more in jail, the prosecution said.
He also was sentenced to loss of $500 per month for 10 months.
The Air Force court-martialed Neal on Tuesday before Lt. Col. Eric Dillow, military judge for the Pacific Circuit out of Yokota Air Base, Japan. Neal chose to be tried by judge alone instead of a jury.
Before the events that led to his court-martial, Neal faced administrative discharge. He had had a series of alcohol-related problems, according to testimony, and had been punished twice under Article 15 of U.S. military law.
On his second Article 15 on June 16, his pay grade was reduced from E-2 to E-1 and he was restricted to base.
But Neal knowingly violated the restriction on “numerous occasions” from June 17-25, he told the court.
He said he left base through the main gate and showed his identification card each time when returning to base. An electronic record is made of each entry under the Biometric Identification System, or BIDS, according to testimony.
After BIDS records showed he’d broken restriction, Neal said, unit leaders informed him they were shelving his administrative discharge and he now faced the prospect of a court-martial.
Fearing jail time, he gathered some belongings and fled to an off-base apartment he’d rented, where he lived with his girlfriend, he told the judge.
Base authorities interviewed people in the off-base bar district and passed out flyers with Neal’s picture. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations put 14 agents on the case, OSI Special Agent Kevin McCray testified.
Neal had been AWOL for 43 days when 10 OSI agents appeared suddenly at his apartment.
Neal said that while in pretrial confinement, he learned his girlfriend “had contacted them” and led them to him.
Prosecutor Capt. Felix Sutanto asked Dillow to give Neal a 10-month jail sentence, forfeiture of two-thirds of his base pay and a bad-conduct discharge.
“He went AWOL for 43 days. He would not be here had he not been caught … His conscience didn’t lead him here,” Sutanto said, noting that Neal had been brought in “by 10 OSI agents leading him in handcuffs.”
Capt. Suzanne Stephenson co-prosecuted.
Defense lawyer Capt. Deanna Daly of Yokota Air Base argued that a bad-conduct discharge wasn’t warranted.
She said Neal had been known in his squadron as an especially good airman but he became ensnared with women and other “off base” diversions. He also had problems with alcohol and an unhappy upbringing, she said.
Neal was returned Tuesday night to the Camp Humphreys jail.