GI pleads guilty to injuring self to get out of Iraq
December 12, 2003
WüRZBURG, Germany — Plagued with anxiety, driven by addiction to painkillers and yearning to see his newborn son, Spc. Marcus Lee couldn’t stand to spend another day in Iraq.
So on July 1, 3½ months into his tour at Sustainer Air Base in Balad, Lee grabbed his M-16 rifle from the weapons rack of the 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, and walked outside behind the tent. He sat down on a water jug, chambered a round, aimed the rifle at his foot, and fired.
“I knew I wanted to get out of Iraq and be with my son,” he said. “I mentally quit. I gave up being a soldier because I wanted to be a father.”
The gunshot did earn Lee a trip back to his home base in Giebelstadt, Germany, for medical treatment and a court-martial. But the reunion with his wife, Susanne, 19, and his son, Anthony, came with a price.
Lee pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of injuring himself to avoid duty, wrongful use of the prescription drug Percocet, and trying to bribe a medic to give him the drug. Lt. Col. Robin Hall, the military judge, sentenced him to two years in prison, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank and a bad-conduct discharge.
Lee had been married less than three months when he left his pregnant wife and shipped out for Iraq with his unit March 17. He had joined the Army four years earlier as a helicopter mechanic, and his commanders testified he had been a superior soldier.
He was excited at first about going to Iraq, according to testimony from his mother, but his motivation waned by summer. He went home for two weeks in June and was awed by the birth of his son on June 10. He said he wanted to spend time with his son — unlike his own father, who left the family before Lee was born.
Lee said after joining the Army he also had become addicted to Percocet, a painkiller, which had been prescribed for a series of ear and throat maladies.
Lee said he has undergone counseling and been drug-free since July, although prosecutors said he had tried to obtain Percocet as recently as last month.“Specialist Lee is a good man,” said his attorney, Capt. Kurt Gilabert. “He let his fellow soldiers down. He wants the opportunity to be there with them again.”
But Capt. Treb Courie, the military prosecutor, said Lee had disgraced himself beyond redemption by leaving his unit during war. He recommended a 25-month sentence. The judge granted most of it.
“You need to send a message about what is right and what is wrong,” Courie said. “What the accused did is a slap in the face to every soldier who is serving in Iraq.”