Military panel finds soldier guilty of being AWOL
WüRZBURG, Germany — A 54th Engineer Battalion soldier will spend 30 days in jail after being found guilty Thursday of being absent without leave while his unit was deployed to Iraq.
Sergeant 1st Class Exzelmon White, 42, also was convicted of disobeying a lawful order and being absent from his place of duty. He was reduced to the rank of staff sergeant and sentenced to 30 days’ confinement and forfeiture of $500 per month of his military pay for six months.
A nine-member panel of officers and noncommissioned officers deliberated for 3½ hours before rendering a verdict in the two-day court-martial. White was found innocent of another charge, disrespect to a superior commissioned officer.
According to court testimony, White’s superior officer, Capt. Nathan Betts, ordered him to Kuwait from Logistics Support Area Dogwood, Iraq, during the first week of June 2003 to pick up desert combat uniforms, boots and other supplies.
White sent the uniforms and supplies back on a convoy several days later, but he remained in Kuwait. His failure to return with the convoy led to several unsuccessful attempts by battalion officers to get on resupply convoys in late June and July. Government testimony indicated that White was staying in Kuwait because he thought he was of better use to the battalion there.
Evidence at the trial showed that White was suffering from back problems and hypertension and had a temporary medical profile that prohibited him from wearing body armor. Body armor was required in order to ride in the resupply convoys. Col. Ronald Renuart, a doctor from the hospital in Kuwait who saw White as a patient, testified that he could have worn the body armor, but it would have caused “undue pain.”
When the third resupply convoy arrived in Kuwait, White was in intensive care at the hospital near Camp Virginia, Kuwait.
Tests showed that he was suffering from hypertensive heart disease and that his blood pressure was critically high.
He was later medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then returned to his home station of Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germany.
Maj. Alan Jenest, a U.S. Army Reserve internist who was mobilized and working at the Bamberg medical clinic, testified that White’s blood pressure was in the highest stage and he was suffering from severe hypertension.
In Bamberg, White missed three medical appointments, which led to the charge of failure to repair.
During closing arguments White’s defense lawyers portrayed him as an exemplary noncommissioned officer who motivated soldiers, while prosecutors painted him as a disrespectful, selfish soldier who tried to get out of work.
“He was there wanting a profile so he wouldn’t have to be on the convoy back to Iraq,” said prosecutor Maj. Vince Vanek, of White’s refusal to return to Iraq and his multiple visits to the hospital at Camp Virginia, Kuwait.
“The government wants you to believe this is a dirtbag NCO,” said defense counsel David Court. “We want you to see the rest of the picture. His commander from 1996 came back to testify that he would share a foxhole with him. His [noncommissioned officer evaluation reports] say he is a fast tracker, great NCO, highly motivated.”
Prior to sentencing, White spoke of following in his father’s footsteps with a career in the Army. At the end of his unsworn testimony, he stood in the witness box and, in a shaky voice, apologized for his actions.
“I would like to say I’m sorry to Jackson,” White said, referring to Lt. Col. Donald Jackson, the former 54th Engineer Battalion commander who was sitting in the courtroom. “I was not myself. I take full responsibility for what I did. I’m sorry I let you down, and I’m sorry I let the troops down.”