I have a great deal of sympathy for Lisa Hayes. Like her, I have a terrible tendency to ignore problems and let them get worse and worse, sometimes to the point where they blow up in my face. I don’t know if it’s stubbornness on my part, refusing to acknowledge the growing crisis, or pride, an inability to ask for help, or something else, but it’s caused me no end of headaches and crises and other losses in my life.
But unlike Lisa Hayes, I have never violated an agreement with the US military, nor put a child in danger of suffering the consequences of my failures.
Lisa Hayes was a member of the New Hampshire Army National Guard. She has an ex-husband and a seven-year-old daughter. She was serving her second tour in Iraq when she received reports of domestic violence in her ex-husband’s home, where her daughter was living. She was granted emergency leave to come home, take back her daughter, and fight for full custody.
As is often the case, matters dragged on and on. Her superiors asked her — repeatedly — to keep them informed of her situation, but she let herself get too wrapped up in matters and didn’t follow their orders. They extended her emergency leave three times, at least once on their own without word from her, but she simply did not keep them informed on her situation. Finally, since they were not hearing any word from her, they declared her AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave). Then, in accordance with Army regulations, after 30 days of being AWOL she was declared a deserter.
That finally got her attention, and she notified the Army that she was applying for a hardship discharge and turned herself in.
Here is where Ms. Hayes was given a gift. A tremendous gift.
By all rights, she should have been arrested for desertion, court martialed, and sentenced to prison. The facts are indisputable: she was granted leave, granted extensions of that leave, and when they expired, did not return to duty. She did not seek additional extensions or begin the discharge process until after she had been first declared AWOL and then charged as a deserter.
Instead, the Army dropped the desertion charge and granted her a hardship discharge. She is now free of her obligations to the military and free to seek full custody of her daughter and begin a new life as a civilian, armed with an honorable discharge that she really had no reason to expect.
I’m glad for her. But I hope she understands that she did not earn her freedom and honorable discharge. They were not a reward or recognition of her merit, but an act of sympathy and compassion. She is free of her legal obligations, but now has a moral debt that she ought to repay.
And the best way, I think, is to concentrate on raising her daughter into a better, more responsible citizen than Ms. Hayes herself has been.
I wish her the greatest of luck.
Anyone interested in seeing how the Lisa Hayes story developed can see these stories: