AWOL from Army, woman gets 6-month sentence

With credit for time already served, the solider, who was arrested in Tampa, faces about two more months in jail.

Published August 15, 2006

A Lutz woman has received an unusually long sentence - six months' confinement - for walking away from her Army duties.

"I was shocked," said her attorney, Maj. Eva Clements, an Army lawyer for 10 years. "I've never seen such a harsh sentence on an AWOL."

Tammy Turk, 26, was court-martialed Aug. 4 at Fort Campbell, Ky., for being absent without leave and received the sentence from a military judge. Although his decision must be reviewed by a higher officer, Turk has remained in jail since June 16, when Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrested her at her job at a Hess station in Tampa.

The sentence, minus credit for time already behind bars, means Turk is likely to spend up to two more months locked up.

More than 90 percent of soldiers labeled as deserters never face a court martial, according to Army spokesmen. They negotiate a release. And many who are tried receive an unfavorable discharge, but no further jail time.

Clements said all her pretrial efforts to obtain a release for Turk were turned down.

Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman based at the Pentagon, said more soldiers, guardsmen and reservists seem to be going AWOL lately.

"We've seen some increase in going AWOL to avoid deploying to war, but this is usually resolved before it becomes a desertion issue, and in most cases is not resulting in incarceration," Banks wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

War wasn't an issue for Turk. She enlisted in the Army seven years ago, when the United States was at peace. But Turk joined in a period of uncertainty about her future. By the end of basic training, she was engaged and resentful about her Army commitment. She quit twice, and was arrested twice.

After Turk pleaded guilty to AWOL this month, she expected to be released. Clements asked that she be sentenced to time served.

Then Turk listened as the prosecutor, Capt. Christopher Day, requested the six months.

"He said it was to make me an example so that other people wouldn't go AWOL," Turk said Friday, from the Christian County Jail in Hopkinsville, Ky.

Then she heard the decision.

Day told the Times he could have prosecuted Turk for desertion, more serious than AWOL, and could have sought 18 months.

Bill Coats can be reached at coats@sptimes.com or 813 269-5309.