Tuesday, July 8, 2008

AWOL soldier returned to post/Army: Desertion up 80 percent since start of Iraq War

by Christian Hill The Olympian 17 April 2008
A Fort Lewis soldier who reportedly deserted his unit in July returned to the Army post this week following his arrest at a skating rink in his hometown in Louisiana.
Pfc. Steven J. Arceneaux, 28, is back on duty with his unit as his chain of command decides whether to punish him. Possible sanctions include loss of pay, a demotion, a dishonorable discharge or jail time.
His arrest comes as the number of active-duty soldiers who have deserted the Army has increased 80 percent since the start of the Iraq War five years ago, according to the Army. The figure represents less than 1 percent of its active-duty force.
Immediately following his arrest, Arceneaux told a Louisiana television reporter that he had his reasons for leaving but could not discuss them.
"There are things that happened that no one really knows about, but I'm just going to leave it at that," he said, according to the report posted on the Web site of KTBS-TV in Shreveport, La.
Arceneaux was a noted speed skater and a former Shreveport radio disc jockey known as "Scuba Steve," according to news reports.
He enlisted in the Army on July 5, 2005, in Shreveport and arrived at Fort Lewis a year later after completing training at Fort Benning, Ga., according to the Army. He was an infantryman trained to fire mortars and other large ordnance.
Arceneaux was assigned to an infantry battalion of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team). Shortly before the brigade deployed for a 15-month tour in Iraq, however, Arceneaux was transferred to the brigade's rear detachment, according to the Army. The reasons for the transfer are unclear. Family members couldn't be reached for comment.
He was reported absent without leave on July 10, 2007, and the Army cut off his pay and issued a warrant for his arrest the following month, according to the Army.
An anonymous tip led to Arceneaux's arrest at the skating rink in Bossier City, La., on April 5.
Desertion is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"They (commanders) have broad authority to take a range of actions, or no action at all, but it really depends on the circumstances," Fort Lewis spokeswoman Catherine Caruso said.
The number of active-duty soldiers who has deserted their units increased from 2,610 in 2003 to 4,698 in 2007, Army statistics show. That's a tiny fraction of the half-million soldiers serving in the Army and well below the number of deserters during the Vietnam War when the draft was in effect. In 1971, for instance, the Army reported 33,094 deserters.
At Fort Lewis, there are 239 open cases of soldiers who have abandoned their units, Caruso said. The tally consists of soldiers assigned to Fort Lewis and soldiers from the Northwest region who left their units while attending basic or advanced training. Of those cases, 220 have been absent for more than 90 days, she said.
Thirteen Fort Lewis soldiers who abandoned their units have returned to military control since Jan. 1, she added.
The Army post has deployed more than 30,000 soldiers since the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
In the news report, Arceneaux said he did have regrets. But asked if he would do it over again, Arceneaux simply replied, "Yes."
Christian Hill covers Lacey and the military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.

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