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Michigan man arrested at his mother's home for desertion, absent five months

By COREY MURRAY | Hillsdale Daily News, Mich. | Published: August 16, 2018

HILLSDALE, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — The fate of a Reading man arrested Tuesday for military desertion remains unknown.

Hillsdale County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested 22-year-old Andrew Joseph Whittaker at his mother's home in Reading early Tuesday morning after nearly five months of being absent without leave, a violation of Article 85 of the U.S. Code Title 10.

"Watching him get handcuffed opened another wound," said Celeste Merillat, Whittaker's mother. "He did it to protect his mother."

Merrillat, a proud military mother, said that Whittaker enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 1, 2015 and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

In December 2017, Whittaker returned to Reading on leave to increasing family turmoil caused by an abusive step-father, Patrick, according to Merrilat.

During this time, Merillat said that Patrick was verbally accosting her one day and Whittaker intervened.

"He seen what I was going through...that I was mentally drained," Merillat said. "It broke Andy's mind to see what I was going through."

Whittaker returned to Schofield Barracks in January, according to Merillat, and attempted to help his family in any way he could including financially. In February, he returned home to Reading.

"He couldn't figure out a way to get me to a safe place," Merillat said.

On July 25, Merillat's husband, Patrick, was arrested by the sheriff's office on charges of domestic violence.

Merillat said that Whittaker's unit in Hawaii was in contact with the family and offered assistance to her as they knew what she was going through and why Whittaker, who had been in contact with his unit himself, had left.

Whittaker, who had been working at local manufacturing companies to earn money, attempted to turn himself in twice to military recruiters and obtained a federal attorney prior to his arrest Tuesday.

"They knew Andy wasn't malicious," Merillat said. "They would even call and check in on me. They knew Andrew was a good kid."

Merillat, choking back tears, said she could not help but feel guilty for what lies ahead for Whittaker, who remains incarcerated at the Hillsdale County Jail where Patrick is serving time for domestic violence.

"I feel like I took away a part of his life," Merillat said. "He loves his mom and he loves his country."

Inevitably, Whittaker will be extradited back to Schofield Barracks where he faces punishment under Title 10 of the U.S. Code if he is found guilty.

According to the Cornell Law School, "Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct."

However, the last person to be executed for desertion was Pvt. Eddie Slovik in World War II.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the most any service member has received for desertion is 24-months incarceration and a dishonorable discharge from the military.

©2018 Hillsdale Daily News, Mich.
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