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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Florida reservist who asked federal courts to block the Army from sending him to Iraq on a fifth deployment was excused from active service after being found medically unfit. He is still seeking an honorable discharge to prevent another call-up, according to his lawyer.

“Now we’re working to put the icing on the cake and get him out of the IRR,” or Individual Ready Reserve, Fayetteville, N.C.-based attorney Mark Waple said.

Sgt. Erik Botta, 26, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., won’t be finished with his eight-year obligation until October 2008, so he is asking for the discharge to ensure he will not get another call-up to Iraq, Waple said.

Chances of that happening are slim, Waple said.

“I think there’s one chance in 1,000 that he’d get mobilized,” Waple said. “I don’t think any Human Resource Command [official] would dare do that.”

To avoid being listed as AWOL, Botta reported July 15 to Fort Jackson, S.C., while his petition for relief from the deployment was pending in federal court in Florida.

During his routine medical exam, Waple said, the physician “asked if Erik had any unresolved legal issues you hoped to get resolved before you go,” then told the young soldier, “‘I am determining you are no longer medically fit for worldwide deployment.’”

Botta’s release “certainly happened under very peculiar circumstances,” Waple said.

It’s clear, Waple said, that the medical discharge “was a way for the Army to avoid having to explain their position” in federal court.

Officials from the Army’s Human Resources Command in St. Louis, Mo., did not reply to repeated requests by Stars and Stripes for comment.

Botta hired Waple in July to file a petition against the Army after his second request for an exemption from deployment was denied.

In his court petition, Botta said he thought the Army should consider his previous tours “to assure a sharing of exposure to the hazards of combat,” and contended that the Army’s refusal to exempt him “constitutes unlawful custody.”

A signal support specialist, Botta joined the Army Reserves in October 2000 and transferred to active duty on Oct. 31, 2001, first with the 93rd Engineering Battalion, and then in support of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Fort Stewart, Ga.

He was sent on four short-term deployments while working with the 160th, for a total of about 11 months of nonconsecutive time in combat zones.

One trip was to Afghanistan, from Feb. 1 to Aug. 13, 2002, according to his petition. The other three deployments were to Iraq: March 26 to May 3, 2003; Feb. 13 to May 5, 2004; and July 26 to Aug. 10, 2004.

Botta was granted an exemption from deployment last year in order to pursue an electrical engineering degree at Palm Beach Community College and work as a senior technician on Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.

But his last exemption request was denied by the Army.

Of the approximately 10,700 IRR members sent mobilization orders over the past three years, about 5,700 have requested either a delay or an exemption, according to Army statistics. And the Army has granted nearly 87 percent of those requests, statistics show.

Botta did not reply to repeated interview requests from Stars and Stripes.


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