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Saturday, November 29, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Army officer charged with insubordination
By Ben Dobbin
ROCHESTER, N.Y. Capt. Steve McAlpin, a longtime Army reservist, displays a faded photograph of himself at age 5, decked out in military garb, complete with plastic helmet and toy machine gun.
Serving the United States is what "I've been wanting to do for my entire life," McAlpin, 44, said yesterday, his voice trembling with emotion.
This week, McAlpin, who spent most of last year deployed in Afghanistan, learned he is facing insubordination charges that could abruptly end his 25-year military career.
His breach of discipline: questioning the legality of a waiver his battalion was asked to sign that would put his unit back in a combat zone after just 11 months at home. Under federal law, he pointed out, troops are allowed a 12-month "stabilization period."
McAlpin was notified in a memorandum Wednesday that he was being removed from the 401st Civil Affairs Battalion's battle roster. He said he could face other punishment, including a court martial and losing rank.
Members of the 401st will be deployed for duty overseas Wednesday. The commander, Lt. Col. Phillip Carey, charges in his memo that McAlpin had a "negative attitude" and was being "insubordinate towards the leadership" of the 401st.
"We signed up to fight our nation's enemies and we are fully prepared to do that," McAlpin said. "But if they're going to usurp the laws of this country at the expense of our most precious asset, our soldiers, then I will not stand for that, not for a minute."
About a dozen other officers refused to sign the waiver, as well as four enlisted soldiers called to redeploy, McAlpin said.
"Soldiers are proud to serve any time, anywhere. I'd go tomorrow," McAlpin said from his Victor, N.Y., home. "But I have four soldiers that don't want to go."
Instead of signing the reprimand document, McAlpin attached a note of protest, stating his performance evaluations have been excellent and that his record shows "no pattern of incompetence." He also plans to meet with a military attorney.
McAlpin served in Bosnia in 1996. Last year in Afghanistan, he was a liaison to local warlords, coordinated humanitarian-relief supplies and organized an English-language teaching program.
"I'm looking at something I love more than just about anything my service to the Army and my fellow soldiers and they're trying to stab me in the back," McAlpin said.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, "we need every soldier we can muster," but he said the military should also "honor soldiers that have gone already" by giving them "a break from the hazards of combat."
A spokesman for the 401st, Capt. Brian Earley, said McAlpin's questioning of the waiver was only one reason he was being disciplined. Individual members of the 401st are allowed to refuse to sign the waiver, but Earley said McAlpin was "butting in" for other soldiers.
"People who were on the mission, who wanted to go, he was questioning their orders," Earley said. "He was pursuing a non-issue."
Earley said the military was also taking action because of "an accumulation of things," including difficulties in one of his previous missions to Afghanistan. He declined to elaborate.
"There's a lot of soldiers we're not sending because they have one issue or another," Earley said. "It's important that we put together a solid team. Not all soldiers are ready, even though they think they are, to deploy."
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