Army: Desertion up 80 percent since start of Iraq War
A Fort Lewis soldier who reportedly deserted his unit in July
returned to the Army post this week following his arrest at a skating
rink in his hometown in Louisiana.
Pfc. Steven J. Arceneaux, 28, is back on duty with his unit as his
chain of command decides whether to punish him. Possible sanctions
include loss of pay, a demotion, a dishonorable discharge or jail time.
His arrest comes as the number of active-duty soldiers who have
deserted the Army has increased 80 percent since the start of the
Iraq War five years ago, according to the Army. The figure represents
less than 1 percent of its active-duty force.
Immediately following his arrest, Arceneaux told a Louisiana
television reporter that he had his reasons for leaving but could not
"There are things that happened that no one really knows about, but
I'm just going to leave it at that," he said, according to the report
posted on the Web site of KTBS-TV in Shreveport, La.
Arceneaux was a noted speed skater and a former Shreveport radio disc
jockey known as "Scuba Steve," according to news reports.
He enlisted in the Army on July 5, 2005, in Shreveport and arrived at
Fort Lewis a year later after completing training at Fort Benning,
Ga., according to the Army. He was an infantryman trained to fire
mortars and other large ordnance.
Arceneaux was assigned to an infantry battalion of the 4th Brigade,
2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team). Shortly before
the brigade deployed for a 15-month tour in Iraq, however, Arceneaux
was transferred to the brigade's rear detachment, according to the
Army. The reasons for the transfer are unclear. Family members
couldn't be reached for comment.
He was reported absent without leave on July 10, 2007, and the Army
cut off his pay and issued a warrant for his arrest the following
month, according to the Army.
An anonymous tip led to Arceneaux's arrest at the skating rink in
Bossier City, La., on April 5.
Desertion is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"They (commanders) have broad authority to take a range of actions,
or no action at all, but it really depends on the circumstances,"
Fort Lewis spokeswoman Catherine Caruso said.
The number of active-duty soldiers who has deserted their units
increased from 2,610 in 2003 to 4,698 in 2007, Army statistics show.
That's a tiny fraction of the half-million soldiers serving in the
Army and well below the number of deserters during the Vietnam War
when the draft was in effect. In 1971, for instance, the Army
reported 33,094 deserters.
At Fort Lewis, there are 239 open cases of soldiers who have
abandoned their units, Caruso said. The tally consists of soldiers
assigned to Fort Lewis and soldiers from the Northwest region who
left their units while attending basic or advanced training. Of those
cases, 220 have been absent for more than 90 days, she said.
Thirteen Fort Lewis soldiers who abandoned their units have returned
to military control since Jan. 1, she added.
The Army post has deployed more than 30,000 soldiers since the United
States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
In the news report, Arceneaux said he did have regrets. But asked if
he would do it over again, Arceneaux simply replied, "Yes."
Christian Hill covers Lacey and the military for The Olympian. He can
be reached at 360-754-5427 or at email@example.com.