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AWOL Soldier Returns To Fort Lewis
By Tracy Vedder
EUGENE, ORE. - Another Fort Lewis soldier is refusing to go to Iraq, but this time, it's a woman.
And she claims she was the victim of ongoing sexual assault and harassment during her first tour in the country.
Military police brought Suzanne Swift back to Fort Lewis in handcuffs Tuesday. She's accused of deserting her military police unit just before they were supposed to go back to Iraq.
But her attorney says she was afraid -- not of the danger in Iraq, but of her fellow soldiers.
Swift joined the Army in 2002, signing up for a 5-year stint with the military police. In February of 2004, Swift and her MP brigade deployed to Karbala, Iraq.
There, her attorney and her mother both say she was repeatedly sexually harassed by five sergeants.
"Sergeants will make bets on who can make which private, female private, their private," Swift's mother Sara Rich says that her daughter told her.
Another sergeant allegedly forced the 21-year-old specialist into a sexual relationship.
"She was afraid for her life if she didn't do this," explains Swift's attorney Larry Hildes, "because of the power that he had over her."
Hildes says Swift didn't believe she could say no.
"He could send her into combat," he said. "He could not provide support for her, he could demote her, he could demand that she be discharged."
Hildes says Swift reported the harassment to her superiors at least five times, and the only discipline was a single letter of reprimand.
"Each time she reported this, they retaliated some way against her," Hildes said.
And when Swift was scheduled to return to Iraq with her unit last January, she refused.
"And she looked at me," says Swift's mother Rich, "and said, I just don't think I can do it."
That was in January, for the next six months, Swift's attorney negotiated with the military while she stayed with friends or at her mother's Eugene, Ore. home.
Hildes and Rich say Swift planned to turn herself in this week. Instead, she was arrested by Eugene police after the military sent a federal warrant.
KOMO 4 News asked for an interview with Swift's Commander at Fort Lewis and with someone who can address the issue of sexual harassment complaints. They have declined.
Swift could face a wide range of punishments, anything from a letter of reprimand up to a court martial and five years in prison. Her attorney wants a medical discharge for his client and wants the Army to pursue criminal charges against the soldiers allegedly involved in the harassment.