- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

DENVER (AP) — Simone Holcomb’s choice was between duty and family. She chose family, and now the military might punish her.

Mrs. Holcomb, an Army medic married to an Army sergeant, refused an order to return to duty in Iraq because it could have meant losing two of their seven children in a custody battle.

“For me to get on a plane and abandon my children would be against the law,” Mrs. Holcomb said. “And I don’t know how any parent on Earth could leave without knowing how they’re going to be taken care of.”

Her commanders in Iraq have told her by e-mail that she is absent without leave, she said.

Mrs. Holcomb, 30, and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn Holcomb, 40, lived with their children at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs when both were sent to Iraq in February.

Family members were taking care of their children, but the couple returned on emergency leave in September when Vaughn Holcomb’s ex-wife went to court to get full custody of two of the children from their previous marriage.

A judge said one of the Holcombs had to remain home or they would lose custody. Simone Holcomb said she decided to stay because she is a reservist while her husband has 20 years of active-duty service and is near retirement.

She also said her husband, a tank platoon sergeant with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, would be more sorely missed by his unit. He is now back in Iraq.

The Army requires two-soldier families to agree on custody plans before deployments so that children are taken care of, said Col. Rich Thomas of Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta.

“When there are extenuating circumstances, we obviously want to find a solution to work for both sides,” he said.

Army officials in the United States said they could not confirm Simone Holcomb’s status without talking to her unit commanders in Iraq.

Officials said the punishment for going AWOL ranges up to discharge or imprisonment. Mrs. Holcomb said she has been told only that she would forfeit all her pay since disobeying the order to return to Iraq, but hasn’t been told what other measures she might face.

The Army inspector general is reviewing the case, said a spokesman for Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, who intervened at Simone Holcomb’s request.

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