Soldier who deserted, served in French Foreign Legion is sentenced to 4 years in prison

Lawrence J. Franks, Jr. graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on May 31, 2008

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: December 16, 2014

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — An American soldier who deserted his unit on post and joined the French Foreign Legion was sentenced to four years in prison Monday, according to a report in the New York Times.

The soldier, 2nd Lt. Lawrence J. Franks Jr., also will be dismissed from the Army on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and desertion with the intention to shirk duty, specifically deployment.

The Times reported that Franks, who led a medical platoon within the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said he deserted because of suicidal feelings connected to a more than yearlong wait to deploy overseas.

The 2008 West Point graduate left for France without telling his family in March 2009 and joined the French Foreign Legion on a five-year contract using an assumed name.

"I needed to be wet and cold and hungry," he told the New York Times. "I needed the grueling life I could only find in a place like the Legion."

He used his medical training during peacekeeping operations with the Legion in Central African Republic and Djibouti, earning a number of commendations, the paper said. He also served as guard for French Gen. Laurent Kolodziej, who led the French response during fighting in Mali.

"He is a man I will never forget and by whom I will always stand," Gen. Kolodziej said in his testimony, according to the New York Times. "He is more than a born soldier, he is a born gentleman. I would like to have 10 men like that in my team and I would be the happiest of generals."

Completing his contract in March, Franks turned himself in to the U.S. Army in Germany.

During the trial, the judge prevented Franks' lawyers from using doctors' reports of their client's depression as a defense.

Prosecutors claimed Franks left to avoid deploying to Afghanistan, and his former battalion commander, Col. Michael Loos, testified that losing Franks was a burden as it prepared for its mission.

In a letter to the Portland Tribune shortly after Franks' 2009 disappearance, his father, Dr. Lawrence Franks, said he was sad and confused about his son's desertion.

"My wife would like to say, 'We are surely not alone wondering why our beloved Lawrence left all behind, including us, whom he deeply loves.'"

During Monday's sentencing, the elder Franks said he had hoped the Army would return his son to duty in order to make the most of his skills.

Times archives indicate the younger Franks participated in multiple community running events as his case progressed, including races in Sackets Harbor and Syracuse.

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