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Army Charges Mom for Refusing to Leave Infant

by Kevin Fagan

Spc. Alexis Hutchinson was gung-ho in 2007 when she enlisted in the Army straight out of high school in East Oakland. She'd done three years in the ROTC, and this was her ticket to rock-solid stability, she told relatives.

Angelique Hughes, mother of soldier Alexis Hutchinson, plays with her nephew, 8-month-old Charles Wilson, in her home. (Photo: Lance Iversen / The Chronicle) Now a single mother in uniform, she wants nothing more than to be a civilian again, her mother says - but she may have to spend a couple of years in military prison before that can happen.

The 21-year-old Army cook was charged this week with four court-martial counts for refusing to leave her infant son behind to go to Afghanistan in November with her unit.

Hutchinson is posted at the Hunter Army Airfield outside Savannah, Ga., and for now is serving her normal duties, said base spokesman Kevin Larson. No arraignment date has been set.

She was supposed to deploy overseas with her unit, the 3rd Infantry Division, on Nov. 5, but skipped the flight, she contended, because she had nobody to take care of her then-10-month-old son, Kamani.

Child care plans fell through

Hutchinson told her commanding officers she had arranged with her mother, Angelique Hughes, to watch Kamani while she was away for her one-year tour of duty, but when that fell through at the last minute, she could find no alternative.

Larson said her commanders had offered her child care options but that she had refused them.

Hutchinson was arrested Nov. 6. After a brief stay in military day care, Kamani went back to Oakland with Hughes. Hutchinson was released after two days in military jail and had been waiting until this week for officers to decide if she would be cleared, discharged or brought up for court-martial.

Could face 2-year sentence

Her answer came Tuesday, when the Army charged her with being absent without leave, missing a movement, dereliction of duty and insubordinate conduct toward a noncommissioned officer. If convicted, she could spend up to two years behind bars.

"I'm so mad," Hughes said Wednesday. "She'd been in the ROTC since the ninth grade, and even though I told her she should wait until the war is over, she was so eager to join up right after getting out of Fremont High School she did it. Now look at what a mess this is."

Larson said the Army is sympathetic to soldiers' child care concerns, but that when Hutchinson told officers she had nowhere to leave her child, that was not entirely true.

"The command set up alternative child care options for her," he said. "Some organizations came forward, including a well-known veterans group, and offered to take care of the child. Command passed that on to Spc. Hutchinson, and she said no."

Hutchinson's mother and her lawyer vehemently disagree.

"They said, 'You have to get on the plane, and maybe your child will end up in foster care,' " said attorney Rai Sue Sussman of San Francisco. "That wasn't really an option. It's a lot harder to get your child out of foster care when you come back from being away, and that was unacceptable to Alexis."

Hutchinson, who could not reached for comment, has no contact with Kamani's father or his family, Sussman said.

Hughes said she had wanted to take care of Kamani, but shortly before the deployment date, she had to begin helping an ailing sister. She was already caring for an 8-year-old daughter with special needs and a frail mother and running a day care center with 14 children, Hughes said, and the load overwhelmed her.

"I thought the military would understand," she said.

Discharges for child care

According to the Defense Department, single parents are not allowed to enlist for active duty. But the military has 70,500 single parents who had children after finishing basic training. That's about 5 percent of all active-duty personnel.

Legal child care disputes in the Army do have some precedent, as in the case of Lisa Pagan of North Carolina, who resolved a battle with the service last spring over being ordered to report for duty even though she said she had no one to care for her two young children. She received an honorable discharge.

About 3,000 soldiers have been discharged from the Army over the past two years after they couldn't deploy because of child care or pregnancy difficulties, according to the Army Times.

But neither Sussman nor base spokesman Larson said they could recall another court-martial in such a dispute.

"Overall, her command has shown a lack of compassion and failed to properly counsel Alexis," Sussman said. "It's very disappointing that they've chosen to throw the book at her instead of working with her on this."

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