OAKLAND, Calif. - For now, U.S. Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson has not been forced to deploy to Afghanistan, leaving her 11-month-old son, Kamani, in foster care. But in recent days matters hung in the balance, after plans for Kamani's care fell apart under pressure of other family members' special needs.
Hutchinson, 21 and from Oakland, joined the Army in 2007, and has been stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, near Savannah, Ga., since early 2008. She had expected to deploy to Afghanistan with her unit earlier this month, and in preparation, had flown here to leave Kamani with her mother, Angelique Hughes. But after a week, Hughes realized she couldn't continue to care for her grandson on top of her responsibilities to a special needs daughter and an ailing mother and sister.
The Army promised Hutchinson a four-week extension to work out a new plan for Kamani, and in the meantime Hughes brought the boy back to his mother in Georgia.
But midway through the promised extension, the Army told Hutchinson she would have to deploy right away. She then decided not to appear for the flight to Afghanistan. Although she is not a war resister or conscientious objector, she contacted Courage to Resist, an Oakland-based organization that supports military resisters.
Hutchinson returned to base voluntarily after less than 24 hours. She was arrested, and Kamani placed in foster care until Hughes again brought him to Oakland. Hutchinson was initially threatened with being flown to Afghanistan for a special court martial after which she would face a year in jail; she is now under restriction. Hughes continues to feel she cannot care for her grandson in the long term.
Courage to Resist spokesperson Jeff Paterson said Hutchinson's was the first such case with which the organization has been involved. The group put the young mother in touch with an attorney, and in an Internet appeal, asked people to urge Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, to request the Army not deploy Hutchinson so she could care for her son.
Lee's office declined comment because of confidentiality issues. But Paterson said "hundreds" called Lee's office, and she had contacted the Army on the matter.
Hutchinson says she would like to find a caregiver for Kamani, but with her family's many health issues, she doesn't have many possibilities.
Paterson said he had not expected the military "to make a big issue of this, just because it pulls on so many heartstrings." But, he said, the move shows the pressure the military is under in terms of deployments to Afghanistan. "Maybe a year or two ago they would have given her a few more months to figure out what do to, or even give her the chance to leave the military if she couldn't find a plan. But basically they told her she was lying and to work something out or be put in jail, and actually followed through with their threat."
Hutchinson's civilian attorney, Rai Sue Sussman, told Inter Press Service the Army contends Hutchinson is using the family situation as a way to avoid deployment, and says Kamani's grandmother should be able to care for him.
"I'm outraged by this," Sussman told IPS. "I've never gone to the media with a military client, but this situation is just completely over the top."
Meanwhile, Courage to Resist is raising funds to help with Hutchinson's civilian legal expenses and her mother's travel expenses with Kamani.
Watch www.couragetoresist.org for new developments.