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New resources key to AWOL apprehension

Published: 01:54PM February 27th, 2014

Don’t bother running, because you can’t hide forever.

That’s the message of the AWOL Apprehension Team at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and they proved it by finding and detaining deserter Pvt. Kevin Shakely last year.

Shakely faced a general court-martial Feb. 18. An Army judge accepted Shakely’s guilty plea to three counts of desertion, two counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice. Under a plea deal, he will serve a year in prison, with credit for pretrial confinement time he’s served since November.

JBLM’s provost marshal, Maj. Jay Cash, said the team has seen a resurgence in recent years, as deployments not only have slowed down, but the Army has put new resources toward apprehending AWOL Soldiers.

However, Cash said the emphasis on apprehension is not new.

“Where the opportunity presents itself, we return these people to military control,” Cash said.

Shakely was on the run for more than 10 years, according to court documents. After making it through basic and advanced individual (infantry) training, he fled the Army in 2004 before ever making his way to JBLM.

Civilian authorities captured Shakely about two years later in Des Moines, Iowa, and released him with a provisional pass to show up at his unit, prosecutor Capt. Robert Juge III said at Shakely’s court-marshal. He never did.

In August 2006 he was captured again. This time, he was placed in military custody, but Shakely slipped his escorts, not military police, when they left him at Sea-Tac International Airport baggage claim to get their car. Shakely bought a ticket and got on another plane.

Seven years later, Cash’s team was going through the deserter rolls and ran across Shakely’s name. They called Shakely’s mother and sent out a notice to law enforcement authorities in Northern California, who ultimately picked him up.

Shakely lied to AWOL Apprehension Team investigators and to California TV reporter Kimberly McDougall about his identity to get the Army to stop pursuing him. The team never backed off; investigators took Shakely into custody November 2013 after he refused to turn himself in.

Run-ins with the law kept Shakely on the MPs’ radar, but even keeping a clean nose wouldn’t have helped indefinitely. Cash said any time a Soldier deserts, the Army puts out a warrant for the Soldier’s arrest. If AWOL Soldiers have their IDs checked by law enforcement, or apply for jobs, the warrants will pop.

“They always will be looking over their shoulder,” Cash said.

Shakely’s punishment also isn’t a necessarily a standard for others, Cash said. How long a Soldier is away, and what the reasoning is — along with what they tell others — can make a difference.

At his court-marshal, Shakely said he realized after training that the Army wasn’t for him. He claimed he joined the service to impress his stepfather.

Cash said he and his team have heard those before, along with the classic fear of being put into harm’s way. Sometimes, Cash said, young people talk to recruiters with “rose-colored glasses on,” and develop a distorted view of reality.

“A lot of guys just don’t realize the commitment they sign up to,” Cash said. “It’s a life commitment.”

Juge put it another way in his closing argument: “Not everyone is worthy to wear the uniform.”