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Still AWOL

Media got soldier's story wrong, attorney says


Spc. Simone Holcomb and her children - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Spc. Simone Holcomb and her children

News outlets jumped the gun by reporting earlier this week that Spc. Simone Holcomb, a Ft. Carson soldier facing AWOL charges for choosing to stay home with her children instead of returning to Iraq, had been reassigned to Ft. Carson, her attorney says.

From Colorado Springs' Gazette to Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, reports quoted Army officials as saying Holcomb had been granted a compassionate reassignment last week, so she wouldn't have to choose between caring for her seven children and serving her country.

"The press reports were wrong," Holcomb's attorney, Giorgio Ra'Shadd, told the Independent Wednesday morning.

Though military officials had expressed a willingness to reassign Holcomb, they still had issued no reassignment order, Ra'Shadd said. In fact, Ra'Shadd only delivered Holcomb's request for reassignment to the Pentagon on Monday.

"There is no order, written or otherwise," Ra'Shadd said.

Meanwhile, as of press time, Holcomb still faced disciplinary action for disobeying an officer's orders and for being absent without leave.

According to Ra'Shadd, an officer with Holcomb's command called her early Monday from Iraq to inform her that she was facing administrative punishment. The commander read Holcomb her rights, telling her she was accused of willfully disobeying orders from a superior officer, and of being AWOL.

Holcomb will fight the punishment, which if imposed would leave a black mark on her record and could cause her to lose pay and benefits. But Ra'Shadd said he was having trouble submitting Holcomb's challenge to her command in Baghdad, because the command didn't provide a fax number to which he could send it, and he was unable to reach them by phone. Holcomb had only 48 hours to file a challenge -- meaning it could already be too late, he said.

In her first interview about her ordeal, Holcomb told the Independent two weeks ago how her commanders in the Army National Guard's 109th Area Support Medical Battalion had been threatening for weeks to kick her out of the Guard for desertion [see "Officially AWOL," Nov. 6-12, at].

Holcomb and her husband, Army Sgt. Vaughn Holcomb, were both deployed to Iraq earlier this year, leaving their children in the care of Vaughn's mother. They returned to Ft. Carson on emergency leave in September, when Vaughn's ex-wife, who is the mother of two of the children, went to court seeking increased custody rights. A judge ultimately ruled that the children should stay with Simone.

While Simone and Vaughn were home on leave, Vaughn's mother had to return to her home in Ohio to take care of her husband, who has cancer.

Vaughn Holcomb returned to Iraq on Oct. 14, but Simone defied orders to return on Oct. 9, citing the judge's ruling and the fact that Vaughn's mother could no longer care for any of the children. Her commanders then threatened to charge her with desertion.

After Simone Holcomb's case sparked a media frenzy, officials with the Department of the Army and the Colorado National Guard said they wanted to resolve the issue. But then, on Monday, Holcomb's command initiated punitive action against her.

The command appears to have acted independently of the Pentagon, Ra'Shadd said.

"Legally, that command has full control of her now," he said.

Holcomb's direct commander in Iraq, Maj. Heather Herrera, refused to comment when reached by e-mail.

Ra'Shadd, meanwhile, argued the Army couldn't possibly succeed in convicting Holcomb of "willfully" disobeying orders. Under Colorado law, it would have been illegal for Holcomb to abandon her children, he said.

The Department of the Army might still tell Holcomb's commanders to back off, Ra'Shadd said.

"That's what I'm hoping for," he said.

-- Terje Langeland

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