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Spc. Loren Barrett, left, is escorted to court Tuesday in Vilseck, Germany.

Spc. Loren Barrett, left, is escorted to court Tuesday in Vilseck, Germany. (Seth Robson / S&S)

VILSECK, Germany — Deserting his unit the day before it deployed to Iraq earned a 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment soldier 11 months in jail and a bad-conduct discharge.

Spc. Loren Barrett, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry, pleaded guilty to two charges of being absent without leave but innocent to a desertion charge during the court-martial Tuesday.

The prosecutor, Capt. Brad Gwillim, told the court that Barrett went AWOL on Aug. 4 and returned on Aug. 13, hours after his unit was scheduled to deploy on a 15-month mission to Baghdad.

But the unit’s flight was postponed until Aug. 14, and Barrett was told he was still heading downrange, Gwillim said. “He was at Rose Barracks (in Vilseck) and given an opportunity to deploy, (but) he said: ‘I’m not going anywhere,’” he told the court.

Instead of boarding a bus to the airport with his unit, Barrett went AWOL again. He was detained by German police in Heidelberg following an incident with a broken window on Sept. 7, said Capt. Abe Burgess, for the defense.

“Barrett failed in his duty as a soldier in the U.S. Army,” Gwillim said. “He deserted his unit and failed his battle buddies ... Barrett deserted his unit with full intent to shirk an important service.”

Burgess argued that the case was about whether Barrett intended to avoid deployment by going AWOL. “Barrett entered active duty in May 2007 after previously being in the National Guard. He knew what it was to deploy because he’s deployed before as National Guard. He knew what he was getting into when he joined active duty,” Burgess said.

“‘Family problems’ were the reason Barrett went AWOL,” Burgess said.

Celena Barrett, the soldier’s mother, told the court that her neighborhood in Chicago is rife with crime and drug abuse.

Burgess said Barrett went home on block leave before the deployment and became concerned about his family. He went AWOL in an effort to help family members, he said.

“He didn’t intend to avoid the deployment,” Burgess said. “If Barrett was going to desert from the Army ... he would have left Germany for good.”

Capt. Emmanuel Sioson, 1st Squadron’s rear detachment commander, told the court that, when it deployed, the regiment was short of soldiers with Barrett’s military occupational specialty — 25U, communications specialist.

Capt. Elizabeth Talarico, also for the prosecution, argued that he should receive the maximum sentence of 12 months’ confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.

“If he gets anything less than the maximum punishment, he will be out before his fellow soldiers and teammates are back from hazardous duty,” she said.

After the judge, Col. Timothy Grammel, found him guilty of desertion, Barrett told the court he’d wanted to be a soldier since he joined Boy Scouts as an 8-year-old.

“I love being a fighter,” he said. “I love the uniform.

“My family and girlfriend at the time were all living in an area that was not so safe. I felt I needed to step up and protect them. I made poor decisions and want to apologize to my unit for my decisions ... Please let me return to my unit. Please let me deploy.”

However, Grammel did not let Barrett deploy. He sentenced him to 11 months’ confinement, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of $893 per month in pay and a bad-conduct discharge.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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