An Army National Guard soldier who went AWOL rather than deploy to Iraq after what he called incomplete and inadequate training was disciplined, the soldier and a military spokeswoman say.
Joseph Jacobo, 46, abandoned his Ontario-based unit in January. One of numerous members of the Guard who have raised concerns about training and equipment problems, Jacobo eventually changed his mind. He is stationed at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad.
In a telephone interview, Jacobo said the military lowered his rank from corporal to private. He was also given 45 days of “extra duty,” he said.
“They are retaliating,” Jacobo said. “They refuse to listen to the truth.”
Maj. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman for the 4th Brigade in Iraq, said Jacobo was punished for being AWOL for 28 days and for making threats against one of his leaders.
She disputed Jacobo’s contention that he was being punished in part because he had spoken to the Los Angeles Times about his concerns over Guard members’ training.
“Jacobo let down 700 of his soldiers when he failed to show back up for training,” Conway said via e-mail.
“When the going got tough, he decided to quit, and in doing so, he violated Army regulation,” Conway said.
Jacobo is attached to the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment. A former Marine, he rejoined the National Guard last year because he supported the Iraq war, he said.
Jacobo said he went AWOL partly because the rifle he had been given to carry in Iraq jammed frequently and had rusted and broken parts. He said he was unable to find anyone at his Texas training base who could fix the rifle.
Officials at the Army’s Ft. Bliss Training Complex, which straddles the Texas-New Mexico border, traced the history of Jacobo’s weapon and denied his allegations.
Shortly before Jacobo went AWOL, members of two other National Guard units that prepared for deployment at Ft. Bliss came forward with allegations that they were poorly trained.
Members of one unit said their training was so shoddy that they feared they would incur needless casualties in Iraq.
A sergeant in the second unit sent a post-training summary to commanders saying that the unit’s machine guns were in bad condition. “Perhaps we should throw stones?” he wrote.
The chief of the National Guard announced after an informal inquiry in Texas and New Mexico that although he found some problems, the soldiers there were receiving adequate training. More than 40,000 soldiers have been trained at and deployed from Ft. Bliss in the last three years.