Army Sentences Soldier to 7 Months in Military Jail for Going AWOL From Iraq Deployment

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A soldier who admitted fleeing from the Army rather than deploying to Iraq for a second time was sentenced Thursday to seven months in a military prison and given a bad conduct discharge.

Spc. Mark Wilkerson, who pleaded guilty to desertion and missing troop movement earlier Thursday as part of a plea deal, could have been incarcerated for up to 10 months.

Wilkerson, 23, surrendered at Fort Hood in August — about a year and a half after failing to return from an approved two-week leave — saying he was tired of running and wanted to move forward with his life.

"I quit the Army, I quit my unit, and I did not show up when I needed to," Wilkerson told the judge during his sentencing hearing.

Prosecutor Capt. Derek Leo had asked the judge to send Wilkerson to prison and then release him with a dishonorable discharge.

"He simply abandoned his Army family when they needed him most," Leo said in closing arguments. "A message must be sent ... that when one deserts and by design misses movement, confinement will occur."

Wilkerson's lawyer, Michael J. Duncan, unsuccessfully argued that his client should not be incarcerated because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. But the judge agreed with Duncan that Wilkerson should get a bad conduct discharge rather than a more severe dishonorable discharge.

Wilkerson said he decided to go AWOL because his conscientious objector status was denied a month before his unit was to return to Iraq in early 2005. Wilkerson, who was 17 when he enlisted, has said his views on the war changed after he served in Iraq for a year beginning at the start of the March 2003 invasion.

Since his return, Wilkerson has worked in an office at the central Texas Army post and has been allowed to leave after initially being confined to the post, although he was never in a cell, he said.

Two weeks ago at Fort Lewis, Wash., a judge declared a mistrial in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq. A new trial is set for next month for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada of Honolulu, who has said he refused to go because he believes the war is illegal.

U.S. Army medic Agustin Aguayo, who turned himself in last fall after fleeing before his second deployment to Iraq, is scheduled for trial next month in Germany.