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.
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