SAVANNAH, Ga. — A single-mom soldier who says she refused to deploy to Afghanistan because she had no family able to care for her young son will be discharged from the military instead of facing a court-martial, the Army said Thursday.
Spc. Alexis Hutchinson, an Army cook stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, was arrested in November after skipping her unit's deployment flight. Hutchinson, 21, said she couldn't leave her son because her mother had backed out of plans to keep the child a few days before the soldier's scheduled departure.
The Army filed criminal charges last month against Hutchinson of Oakland, Calif., but a general at neighboring Fort Stewart chose to settle the case by granting her an administrative discharge rather than try her in a military court.
"She's excited that she's no longer facing jail and can still be with her son, which is the most important thing," said Rai Sue Sussman, Hutchinson's civilian attorney. "We're very happy about it right now."
The decision still carries consequences for Hutchinson. She is being demoted in rank to private and will lose benefits afforded to military service members and veterans, Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said.
Larson said the Army had evidence that Hutchinson, regardless of her family situation, would have resisted deploying "by any means." He said commanders decided a court-martial would be too disruptive to the Army, requiring soldiers now in Afghanistan to return to the U.S. to testify.
"This case wasn't about a soldier having to choose between her duty to the nation and her family," Larson said. "There is evidence both from Pvt. Hutchinson and her fellow soldiers to indicate she had no intentions of deploying."
Sussman denied that Hutchinson was exploiting her status as a single-mom to get out of going to Afghanistan.
"She was willing to deploy, and was ready to do that if her mother had not backed out of taking care of her child," she said.
Hutchinson, who's assigned to the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, joined the Army in 2007 and had no previous deployments. She is no longer in a relationship with the father of her 13-month-old son, Kamani.
The Army requires all single-parent soldiers to submit a care plan for dependent children before they can deploy to a combat zone.
Hutchinson had a plan – her mother in California, Angelique Hughes, had agreed to care for the boy. Hughes kept the boy for about two weeks in October before deciding she couldn't keep him for a full year, saying she was overwhelmed caring for other family members with health problems and special needs.
Hughes returned Kamani to his mother in Georgia a few days before Hutchinson's scheduled deployment Nov. 5. They day of her flight, Hutchinson stayed home with her son and told her superiors by phone she would not be deploying.
According to the Defense Department, there are more than 70,500 single parents on active duty in the U.S. military – about 5 percent of all service members. Nearly half of military single parents are in the Army.
Russ Bynum has covered the military based in Georgia since 2001.