VILSECK, Germany – A 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment soldier who deserted while on midtour leave from Iraq will spend the next seven months in confinement.

At a court-martial Tuesday in Vilseck, Pfc. Robert J. Weis pleaded guilty to desertion and missing movement.

In an unsworn statement, Weis, 20, told the court he joined the Army motivated by a desire to protect America from Islamic extremists. However, soon after he joined, his sister’s fiance was killed in a fight at a party, he said.

"I decided to make myself a better person so I didn’t wind up in hell," he said. "I started reading the Bible. Everything I read told me not to kill people. There are better ways to solve problems than fighting."

The young soldier applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector but deployed to Iraq in July last year before the matter was settled, he said.

"After a while, they told me my application for a discharge was turned down," he said.

Weis got into trouble after he went to visit his mother in Torrington, Conn., on midtour leave in December.

Capt. Brad Gwillim, for the prosecution, told the court that Weis failed to show up in Hartford, Conn., for a Dec. 22 flight back to the Middle East to rejoin his unit.

Weis, who worked in a tactical operations center in Iraq and expected to be a Stryker driver if he returned, said he turned himself in to the Army at Fort Knox, Ky., on Feb. 11.

Gwillim said the court needed to make an example of Weis so others in the Vilseck community could learn from his fate.

"He should not be free from confinement before his fellow soldiers return from Iraq. He should get 10 months’ confinement," Gwillim said.

David Court, Weis’ private defense counsel, said his client had a life-changing experience and was doing what he thought was right when he deserted.

"His realization of what his personal religion meant to him occurred, unfortunately, after he joined the Army, but it is not a made-up, insincere thing that he would use to get out," Court said.

The judge sentenced Weis to seven months’ confinement, forfeiture of $898 per month for seven months, reduction to private 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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