SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) — The Army said Wednesday it has filed criminal charges against a single-mother soldier who refused to deploy to Afghanistan last year, arguing she had no family able to care for her infant son.
Spc. Alexis Hutchinson, a 21-year-old Army cook from California, could face a prison sentence if she is convicted in a court-martial. But first, an officer will be appointed to decide if there’s enough evidence to try a case against her.
Hutchinson was scheduled to depart from an Army airfield in Savannah, Georgia, on Nov. 5. But she skipped the flight, saying her mother in California found herself overwhelmed and unable to fulfill her pledge to take the baby for a year.
Kevin Larson, an Army spokesman, said Wednesday that Hutchinson was charged with missing movement — for missing the overseas flight — being absent without leave, dereliction of duty and insubordinate conduct.
“She didn’t do her duty,” Larson said. “They know their deployment dates. They have to show up. Otherwise, they have to face the consequences.”
The stiffest charge, missing movement, could bring up to two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Hutchinson’s attorney, Rai Sue Sussman, said she still hopes the case can be settled without a military trial, given that Hutchinson’s only reason for not deploying overseas was her fear of what would happen to her baby.
“There are other routes if they really want to punish her,” Sussman said.
The Defense Department says there are more than 70,500 single parents on active duty. The Army requires those assigned to a combat zone to submit a care plan for dependent children.
When Hutchinson was assigned to Afghanistan last year, her plan was to have her mother in California, Angelique Hughes, care for son Kamani, who was born in January 2009.
Hughes, who also has other family responsibilities, said she kept him for about two weeks in October before deciding she couldn’t handle the job for a full year. She returned Kamani to her daughter in Georgia.
The decision to charge Hutchinson was far different than the Army’s handling of another recent case involving a military mom.
Lisa Pagan was granted a discharge after she fought being recalled to the Army four years after she left active duty and entered a military reserve program.
Pagan reported for duty at Fort Benning in Georgia last February with her two young children in tow. She argued that her husband traveled for business too often to care for their children alone.
While Pagan and her attorney battled the Army through appeals, she was never accused of refusing orders.