Soldier decries AWOL arrest at hospital
Lexington, Kentucky, November 20, 2007 — A soldier facing his second tour of duty in Iraq said in a jailhouse interview he was at a hospital seeking mental help when he was arrested in the middle of the night for allegedly being absent without leave.
Spc. Justin Faulkner insists his superior officers at Fort Campbell knew about his mental problems but refused to provide adequate treatment.
On Thursday, Faulkner checked into a Lexington VA hospital, where doctors told him they wanted to keep him until Monday for observation. Police showed up at the hospital shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday to take him to jail.
“It’s humiliating, degrading,” Faulkner, 22, of Stanton, said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press minutes before his release from the Fayette County Detention Center. “It’s made me lose respect for the military. To come and arrest me at the VA, it wasn’t like I was trying to hide, trying to run. I was getting help. I am being punished for getting help.”
Faulkner, who concluded a one-year tour of duty in Iraq in February 2006, was due to head back there Monday to join the rest of his unit. He was released from jail on the condition he report back to Fort Campbell on Tuesday.
Faulkner said he would but insisted the Army would be “foolish” to send him to Iraq. He said he has been experiencing post-traumatic symptoms since realizing a few weeks ago that a return trip to Iraq was likely.
“I kept getting these flashbacks, these recurring scenes from when I was over there the first time,” Faulkner said. “I get these anxiety attacks at night, and sometimes during the day, I daze off. I can’t get it out of my head. It wasn’t until I was told I had to go back to Iraq, something just clicked in my head – it was like reliving your worst nightmare.”
Faulkner’s superior officer at Fort Campbell, Sgt. Donnie Burnett, said he wasn’t authorized to comment on the case.
Fort Campbell spokeswoman Cathy Gramling said she couldn’t comment on specifics because of privacy issues but said “there are systems in place on the installation and through the chain of command to ensure soldiers receive the treatment they require.”
Faulkner said those systems didn’t work for him.
Faulkner said he went to a psychiatrist at Fort Campbell for several weeks, most recently last Tuesday, but the drugs he was being prescribed didn’t help. That’s when he checked into the VA hospital.
Faulkner was in the National Guard during his first tour of duty but voluntarily signed up for active duty, even though he says he had questions about the lingering role of American forces in Iraq.
He said civilian life – including work as a prison guard – wasn’t working for him, and the Army offered him a $20,000 bonus to re-enlist. Not until his redeployment date got near did the symptoms become unbearable, he said.
As for the war itself, Faulkner says he supports the soldiers but believes it’s time for the troops to come home.
“To me, we’re fighting Bush’s war that his dad couldn’t finish,” he said.
The arrest comes days after the Army announced soldiers are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980. About nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared with seven in every 1,000 the previous year. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared with 3,301 last year.
Faulkner said he isn’t surprised.
“When you’re over there, you’re keeping peace between two religious communities,” he said. “They see it as pointless going back risking their lives to a war that’s not going to make any effect on them.”
Associated Press Writer Ryan Lenz in Evansville, Ind., contributed to this report.