A Tennessee soldier who was the country’s fourth woman to sign up for a direct combat role has been declared a deserter after being AWOL for more than a month, a military spokesman said Wednesday.
Erika Lopez made local headlines last July when she enlisted as a combat engineer shortly after the Army ended its ban on women in combat. But after taking convalescent leave from basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Lopez failed to return as scheduled on Jan. 4. On Jan. 5 she was declared AWOL, and now after 30 days of AWOL status she’s been reclassified as a deserter, with a warrant out for her arrest.
Currently, military officials seem to have no idea where Lopez is.
“We are always concerned for the welfare of our soldiers,” Army spokeswoman Tiffany Wood told a local CBS station. “Pvt. Erika Lopez’s unit has tried multiple times to determine her whereabouts and make contact with her, however all attempts have been unsuccessful. If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of Pvt. Erika Lopez, please contact local authorities.”
Back when she entered basic training in September, Lopez spoke about making sacrifices for her family (she is married and has two children) and said women were capable of anything men could do.
“You make sacrifices your whole life for your children and for your family, this will be a sacrifice,” said Lopez. “Women can do anything they set their mind to just as well as men I don’t really see any difference at all. I hope women will want to join.”
The maximum penalty for peacetime desertion is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and imprisonment for five years.
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