On July 9, 1990, six soldiers with the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade in Augsburg, Germany, left their post to go to a Florida beach town to find UFOS, according to reports by the Associated Press at the time.
A friend told investigators the men believed they were “chosen by” divine intervention to prepare for the end of the world.
A couple of years later, after all six were demoted, had their pay docked and honorably discharged from the Army, one of theAWOL soldiers said that reports that the group went to Florida to await the second coming of Jesus Christ on an UFO were incorrect.
The group left Germany, he explained, because “Ouija Board spirits told them they were needed to help lead the world through an impending cataclysm,” a July 28, 1992, AP article stated.
The reasons soldiers have gone absent without leave are varied, and Fort Bragg is not immune to that phenomenon.
Here, some objected war.
Another was found teaching in Columbus County, more than a decade after he was last seen at Fort Bragg.
And one was a pregnant soldier whose unit didn’t declare her AWOL, even after she failed to show up at formation for a week. She was later found murdered in a Fayetteville motel room.
These are a few of the Fort Bragg AWOL stories, as chronicled in the pages of The Fayetteville Observer.
According to a Sept. 18, 1992, article, Bobby Joe “Joey” Price went to college, became a teacher, husband and father about 12 years after deserting his Fort Bragg unit.
When his past caught up with him, Price was teaching at Whiteville City Schools.
Then-district superintendent, Jerry Paschal, told the reporter that Price meant a lot to the district and was loved by students.
The errant soldier’s secret came to light, the police chief at the time said, when Price’s name was flagged by the national crime database when he applied for a driver’s license.
Though the Army didn’t search for Pfc. Price when he disappeared from the 25th Signal Battalion on Fort Bragg, he was declared a deserter on May 12, 1980, and his name was entered into the database, a spokesman said.
After spending two days in jail and several days in military custody, Price returned to teaching physical education at Whiteville’s Central Middle School. According to the article, criminal charges weren’t expected, and the outcome of his case is unclear.
Price told the reporter he liked the Army at first because it taught discipline, which he didn’t have growing up because his father died when he was 13.
But after a year, he said, there was “a lot of friction” between him and his commanding officer.
He said he was young and regretted not going through the proper channels.
“I didn’t just get mad one day and walk away,” Price said. “I accept full responsibility.”
Soldiers with Fort Bragg’s Deserter Apprehension Team of the 42nd Military Detachment, 16th Military Police Brigade, took the matter of AWOL or desertion seriously, according to a Nov. 25, 2003, article.
According to the article, soldiers are generally considered AWOL for the first 30 days after they fail to show up at their unit. After that, they are considered deserters.
Lt. Col. Susan Danielsen, Fort Bragg’s provost marshal at the time, said federal warrants lasting 40 years are issued for deserters.
Fayetteville’s Quaker House — which provides counseling for service members questioning their service in the military — started when Fort Bragg soldier Dean Holland opposed the Vietnam War and wanted to become a conscientious objector, according to an Oct. 16, 1994, article.
Holland hitchhiked to Chapel Hill to find the local congregation of the Religious Society of Friends, who are called Quakers.
He challenged the Quakers there to help soldiers at Fort Bragg who opposed the war.
The Fayetteville Quaker House was founded about a month later in June 1969.
That same summer, Holland was granted an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector and went to work helping other soldiers as the director of Quaker House.
Though Holland was killed in a Dec. 31, 1969, car accident, his mission carried on.
According to the article, the Quaker House does not advise soldiers to go AWOL, and AWOL soldiers seeking services are advised to return to their installation to seek legal discharge.
Quaker House helps with that process but advises soldiers that becoming a conscientious objector can be a lengthy process “and therefore should not be approached lightly,” according to the article.
According to a Feb. 2, 2004 article, Jeremy Hinzman was one of those soldiers.
Hinzman, a specialistin the 82nd Airborne Division, said the thought of serving U.S. interests in Iraq caused him to flee to Canada.
He filed his first application to be a conscientious objector in August 2002.
By December, however, Hinzman was in Afghanistan and working as a dishwasher with a unit that wasn’t involved in major combat when he learned his application was denied.
He returned to Fayetteville in July 2003 and figured it was a matter of time before his unit would go to Iraq.
Hinzman said he felt the war there was unjust and fought over oil interests.
“I signed up to defend our country, not be a pawn in some sort of political ideology,” he said.
After learning his unit would be deployed to Iraq, Hinzman packed his family into his car on Jan. 2, 2004, and began the 18-hour drive to Canada.
He left on a Friday during a four-day weekend, and wasn’t declared AWOL until Tuesday.
Hinzman said he didn’t leave out of animosity toward his unit but did so “toward the situation we were in.”
Hinzman sought refuge in Canada, filing an initial application and appearing before the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board in December 2004, according to an Associated Press article.
After years of legal wrangling, he and his family were set to be deported from Canada in September 2008, but the day before they were to leave, a Canadian judge granted a stay.
In a July 2010 appeal, Hinzman state’s if he were charged with desertion, he would face “more server punishment than other deserters because of his political opinion regarding the war in Iraq and his choice to speak publicly about it.”
The judge granted Hinzman’s appeal to refer his application back for redetermination.
Hinzman was featured in the 2016 documentary “Peace Has No Borders,” about Iraq and Afghanistan war resisters in Canada.
Objection to the war in Iraq was also why Sgt. Ricky Clousing went AWOL from Fort Bragg in June 2005, leaving a note explaining as much,, according to an Aug. 19, 2006, article.
Fourteen months after going AWOL, Clousing spoke at a peace rally in Seattle, then surrendered to authorities at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Clousing, who was assigned to the B Co. 313th Military Intelligence Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, said he always intended to turn himself in after going AWOL.
He said his lawyers sought administrative discharge for months after he disappeared but were told the Army hadn’t dropped him from its rolls. A Fort Bragg spokesman said records showed Clousing was dropped 30 days after he left.
Clousing enlisted in 2002.
His unit deployed to Iraq in December 2004 for about five months to support the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
He said he became “disturbed and uncomfortable” with what he described as military abuse of power in Iraq.
An investigator charged with examining Clousing’s claims substantiated many of them when he testified during military court proceedings.
Soldiers were shooting sheep, sideswiping Iraqi vehicles and smashing the vehicle windows with batons, Maj. Richard Wagen said. Those soldiers were punished.
Wagen said the shooting of an Iraqi civilian — an incident that affected Clousing so much he wrote pages about it in his journal — was probably justified.
Clousing said he could not reconcile the war with his own morals and spoke to counselors and a chaplain at Fort Bragg but felt misunderstood.
He considered filing as a conscientious objector, but that required he be opposed to all war, not just the war in Iraq.
“I’d rather spend a year in jail than participate in an illegal war and be part of the machine suppressing Iraq,” he said.
In 2006, Clousing pleaded guilty to being absent without leave and was sentenced to 11 months confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds pay for 11 months, demotion to private and a bad-conduct discharge.
When Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, 23, never returned to Fort Bragg after arriving from Germany it appears no one in authority missed her. Ten days later, Touma’s body was found dead June 21, 2008, in a hotel room near Cross Creek Mall, according to a June 27, 2008, article. An autopsy found she died of asphyxiation.
Originally from Kentucky, Touma arrived at Fort Bragg on June 12, 2008, and hadn’t yet been assigned to a permanent unit when an odor coming from a room at the Fairfield Inn led to the discovery of her body.
She was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.
The father of her unborn child, Sgt. Edgar Patino, a student at Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, was convicted of murdering her.
The two met while stationed together in Bamberg, Germany, officials said.
Touma followed Patino to Fort Bragg after he transferred there months before the killing.
According to North Department of Public Safety records, Patino, 40, is serving from 16 years, four months to 20 years, five months in prison for second-degree murder.
His prison term started Nov. 2, 2010, and he is projected to be released Nov. 21, 2024.
Before Patino’s arrest, the Fayetteville Observer received a letter from a writer who claimed to have killed Touma and several others.
The bottom of the letter contained a symbol of a circle with a cross through it. The same symbol was used by the infamous Zodiac killer, responsible for at least five serial murders in Northern California in 1968 and 1969.
The letter writer claimed to be using the signature of a “role model” and vowed to kill again. Police confirmed that they found the Zodiac symbol drawn in lipstick on a mirror in Touma’s motel room.
Investigators said they believed Patino wrote the letter in an attempt to mislead investigators.
Despite failing to show up for formations, Touma’s disappearance from Fort Bragg went seemingly unnoticed. She arrived from Germany for processing into a dental unit at Fort Bragg on the same day she was last seen alive there.
“This is kind of a unique situation because she was new to the company, ” an Army spokeswoman at the time said. “Her superiors had no past relationship with her at that point.”
The 19th Replacement Company did not know her whereabouts from June 12, the day she was last seen on Fort Bragg, until June 21, when her decomposed body was found in a bathtub in her motel room.
The spokeswoman said Touma’s name was never entered into the Army’s AWOL database.
Army officials conducted a separate investigation into why Touma’s absence was unreported for almost a week, according to a June 27, 2008, article.
An Army investigation, released in September 2008, stated three soldiers in the Replacement Company were reprimanded, including one who reportedly lied to the investigating officer about how the unit lost track of Touma.
The military’s investigation showed that Touma should have been declared absent without leave on June 17 — five days after she failed to report, but paperwork declaring her AWOL was not started until June 22 — the day after her body was found.
According to the Army investigation, a friend of Touma’s called a sergeant to ask him to look for Touma. The sergeant contacted Touma’s platoon sergeant, who noticed her name on the platoon roster without a phone number and assumed she moved to a new unit.
Touma’s friend called again June 18 asking about her. The sergeant again saw Touma’s name on the platoon roster but didn’t see her at formation and again thought she was with a new unit.
The Army investigation noted that the sergeant did not check a separate roster of soldier who would have been noted as moving to new units.
According to the Army investigation’s findings, Touma should have been declared absent without leave 24 hours after she did not appear at formation June 16.
According to the investigation, the sergeant who was in charge of the platoon to which Toumas was assigned told an investigator that he never knew Touma was assigned to his platoon. But according to other statements, when Touma did not show up for formation, the sergeant removed her name from the computer-generated platoon roster instead of notifying his higher-ups that a soldier was missing.
The sergeant who was in charge of Touma’s platoon received a general officer’s letter of reprimand for lying to the investigating officer. The sergeant who was in charge of her friend’s platoon received a letter of reprimand for not notifying his chain of command that a soldier could have been missing. The sergeant who was in charge of Touma’s platoon when she checked into the company received a letter of reprimand for not getting her phone number.
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