By Kevin Dougherty, Stars and Stripes. January 13, 2007

A medic who went absent without leave in September to avoid a second tour in Iraq has been formally charged with desertion and missing movement, according to a U.S. Army spokesman.

If convicted of both offenses, Spc. Agustin Aguayo, with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, could receive a maximum prison term of seven years, said Maj. Eric Bloom, spokesman for the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwöhr, Germany. He also faces the forfeiture of all pay and allowances, demotion to the lowest enlisted rank and a dishonorable discharge.

Under military law, a deserter can be sentenced to death in a time of war. But the law also allows a more lenient sentence depending on the circumstances.

Aguayo’s case was referred to trial Monday by Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, the commander of the JMTC, which has assumed jurisdiction in the matter. The referral follows an Article 32 hearing that was held Dec. 12 in Schweinfurt, Germany, where Aguayo had been assigned.

No trial date has been set.

The 35-year-old medic joined the Army for four years in late 2002 under the delayed entry program. He went to boot camp in January 2003 and eventually left for Iraq in February 2004, serving a year in Tikrit.

Aguayo maintains that in the months leading up to that first deployment to Iraq, he slowly came to view himself as a conscientious objector. While in Iraq, he applied for conscientious objector status but continued to serve with his unit while his request was being processed. Aside from his regular duties as a medic, Aguayo pulled guard duty and went on patrols, but apparently did so without a loaded gun, according to his wife and other supporters.

The Army ultimately rejected Aguayo’s application. He challenged the ruling, but the Army stuck to its decision. Aguayo then took his case to U.S. federal court, and a federal appellate court is considering his case.