Salem man goes AWOL, says Army tricked him.
He was falsely assured that he’d receive medications, he says.
by Alan Gustafon, published by Statesman Journal May 18, 2006
When Jeremy Crawford joined the Army, going AWOL never crossed his mind.
The Salem man was eager to enlist, coveting a $20,000 bonus that would come to him in future installments.
The 31-year-old divorced father of three children also looked forward to earning college-education benefits.
Mostly, he wanted to make a fresh start in life.
Despite a long history of depression and severe anxiety, Crawford figured he would sail through nine weeks of basic training.
After all, he said, a Salem-based Army recruiter, Sgt. Renny Lutz, assured him that he would receive medication to ward off depression and anxiety once he got to basic training.
It was a lie, Crawford said, and it set the stage for him to flee. He went AWOL five weeks ago.
As Crawford tells it, when he reported to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., Army personnel told him that they couldn’t prescribe potent doses of psychiatric medication to recruits.
Without mood-stabilizing medication, Crawford said, he fell apart.
“My mind was always foggy; I would forget everything,” he said. “I was having panic attacks. All the things that happen when I’m not on medication.”
Crawford said that as he struggled through basic training, a drill sergeant told him that he didn’t belong in the Army. He said fellow recruits were equally blunt: “They told me, if we were to go to war, we would not want you with us.”
On April 8, Crawford slipped away from Fort Benning, using a doctor’s appointment as an escape route. He recounted running through a wooded area, ducking under a fence and hitching a ride to a nearby motel. The next morning, he took a Greyhound bus back to Salem.
A feared surrender
Hoping to set things straight with the Army, Crawford is steeling himself to end his AWOL stint.
“I don’t want this to affect the rest of my life,” he said.
His plan is to take a bus to Fort Sill, an army base in Oklahoma that serves as an out-processing center.
Crawford said his departure date hinges on coming up with $200 for bus fare. He expects to go soon.
“Obviously, I need to do it as soon as possible, especially if they have a warrant out for my arrest,” he said.
What happens after that? Crawford doesn’t know. He wants to be free of the Army but fears being tagged with a discharge officially deemed “other than honorable.”
“From what I understand, there are lots of places that wouldn’t hire anyone with an other-than-honorable discharge,” he said.
Even worse, he fears getting sent back to basic training.
“I don’t want to go back to Fort Benning because I know they would treat me like crap,” he said. “If they send me back, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably leave again.”
His case raises questions: Why was he allowed to join the Army in the first place? Did a recruiter intentionally turn a blind eye to his history of depression and anxiety? Did the same recruiter deceive him about the availability of medication?
The Army can’t look into the matter until Crawford turns himself in, said Gary Stauffer, a public-information officer for the Portland Army Recruiting Battalion.
“Once he turns himself in, then he can tell his story to the military police,” Stauffer said Wednesday, after the Statesman Journal provided him with a summary of Crawford’s allegations.
“Because he is AWOL, we can’t do anything. We have to wait until he turns himself in. Then he can make his allegation to the military police and it will work its way through the system. That’s standard procedure.”
The commander of the Army’s South Salem recruiting station, Staff Sgt. Ryan Lukoszyk, declined to discuss Crawford’s allegations Wednesday. Lukoszyk also said that Sgt. Lutz would not answer questions about the case.
“Sgt. Lutz is not here, nor is he allowed to comment on any applicant’s enlistment due to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Lukoszyk said. “I cannot comment on it as well, and I would appreciate it if you do not attempt to contact him again in regards to this.
“As recruiters, we are bound by the privacy act and we cannot discuss or disclose any information about any applicant’s processing. Understood?”
Charges of deception
Crawford’s case comes on the heels of a well-publicized Portland case that resulted in the Army releasing an autistic recruit from his enlistment contract.
Army officials decided that Jared Guinther, 18, didn’t meet enrollment criteria. An Army investigation is under way to determine whether recruiters in Portland improperly concealed his disability, which should have made him ineligible for service.
In Crawford’s case, he alleges that the Salem-based Army recruiter advised him not to disclose his history of depression and anxiety in a medical exam he took before basic training.
Crawford said the same recruiter advised him to stop taking his medication before the exam.
Not wanting to sabotage his Army stint before it got started, Crawford said he heeded the recruiter’s advice.
“I was naive as far as letting the recruiter tell me, ‘Quit taking your medication; you’ll be able to get it later,'” he said. “I never should have quit taking my medication. Even if it meant me not going in.”
To corroborate his medical history and other aspects of his story, Crawford provided the newspaper with a letter from his Salem doctor.
Dr. Ian Loewen-Thomas states in the letter that he has treated Crawford for depression and anxiety since October 2000.
“He had been on treatment for a few years prior to being seen by me for the first time,” Loewen-Thomas writes in a letter dated April 19. “He had been doing fairly well with treatment up until he was last seen in February 2006. The patient at that time decided he wanted to stop his antidepressant anxiety medication and had increased symptoms. The patient will be starting back on treatment for anxiety and depression. It has been recommended that he also see a psychologist for further assessment and therapy.”
Father questions Army’s actions
Terry Crawford, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee and a Navy veteran who lives in Salem, thinks his son is doing the right thing by turning himself in. But he questions the Army’s actions.
“I’m not sure how they let him in with the history he has, his medical history,” he said. “I don’t think he should have been allowed to get in in the first place.”
Terry Crawford said he didn’t try to stop his son from enlisting.
“He just thought this was an opportunity to do something with his life,” he said. “I personally didn’t think it was the right choice, but he’s 30 years old. He makes his own decisions.”
The father said he can relate to his son’s trials; he, too, has battled depression and anxiety.
“Knowing what he experiences and knowing that he wasn’t on medication, I don’t know how he was able to handle as much as he did,” Terry Crawford said. “If he would have got his medication, it could have made all the difference in the world. I mean, I don’t know that the front line would have been the right place for him, but there might have been a place for him in the Army.”
His son shouldn’t be punished for going AWOL, he said, because he was deceived.
“Well, yeah, I think that’s just part of the recruiting system,” Terry Crawford said. “I think they’ll do whatever it takes to recruit people. I think that’s pretty common practice for them.”
Grasping for answers
After he ditched basic training, Jeremy Crawford felt like he had nowhere to turn for help.
“I am scared and I am not sure where to go or what to do,” he wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.
Holed up in Salem, Crawford said he spent hours scouring the Internet, conducting a crash course in military regulations that apply to AWOL soldiers.
He also got in touch with the GI Rights hotline , a nonprofit California-based organization that provides information and advice to thousands of service members every year who have gone AWOL, according to the group’s Web site.
Generally, the military does not actively pursue AWOL soldiers. Federal arrest warrants are issued after 30 days of absence, sending soldiers’ names into law-enforcement databases.
Crawford, who grew up in Salem and attended Sprague High School, hated the notion of being a fugitive. He didn’t want to live in fear of being arrested if he got pulled over by police during a routine traffic stop.
As Crawford prepares to surrender to the Army, he no longer covets sign up bonuses or college benefits. He says he simply wants to part ways with the Army and get on with his life.