Private Hutchinson — explaining for the masses

Private Hutchinson with her son

Most of you have probably heard of Private Hutchinson, the Soldier who refused to deploy because she had no one to care for her son.  I wasn’t personally involved in the case and —just like you— don’t have all of the facts surround the case; but, I can provide an explanation of the outcome of this case that will be understandable by those with no military experience.  Follow this link to the article, then return here to read on:  Soldier arrested for refusing to deploy is discharged.

The crux of the case is that Private Hutchinson missed movement — a violation of Article 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  In essence, the day that her unit was scheduled to fly to Afghanistan, she did not show up at her unit.  As an organization whose primary mission is to find and kill the enemy, the Army cannot allow its personnel to make decisions such as this on their own.  Believe it or not, there are ways that this Soldier and her chain of command could have found a solution that would not have involved her violating the UCMJ.  What the other charges were, I can only speculate; but that’s irrelevant to this post.

The linked article states that she was administratively discharged instead of bring tried by court-martial.  The Army has a regulation that covers every possible type of separation (discharge) an enlisted member can receive:  Army Regulation (AR) 635-200.  There are various chapters within this regulation, and each chapter is a specific separation; the one that applies in this case is Chapter 10, Separation in Lieu of Court-Martial.  That she requested, and was granted, this separation also explains the other details in the article.

A Chapter 10 can only be approved by what’s known as the “General Court-Martial Convening Authority (GCMCA)” — the individual who has the authority to order a general court-martial against a Soldier.  This person is normally the commander of an installation (in this case, Fort Stewart).  The GCMCA does not have to approve a Chapter 10 separation, and will normally only do so if the facts of the case suggest that approval is in the best interest of the Army.

An approved Chapter 10 separation requires the immediate reduction of rank to Private and comes with an “Other Than Honorable (OTH)” characterization of service (more on that in a bit).  This means that even a Sergeant Major with 25 years of faithful service will be automatically reduced to Private if he is granted a separation in lieu of court-martial.  This is what happened in Private Hutchinson’s case:  her reduction from Specialist to Private was automatic.

Within the military, there are five characterizations of services, though only three are widely known:  Honorable, General, OTH, Bad Conduct, and Dishonorable.  The first three are known as administrative discharges and the last two are punitive discharges.  Soldiers can only receive punitive discharges through a court-martial conviction.  The administrative discharges are issued by way of AR 635-200; Chapter 10 mandates an OTH characterization.  An OTH is roughly equivalent to a Bad Conduct discharge in that the Soldier does retain some (but very few and very minor) benefits, whereas a Dishonorable Discharge will cause the Soldier to lose all benefits.  Another difference between the two is that a Dishonorable Discharge will result in extreme hardship for the remainder of the Soldier’s life; with an OTH, a Soldier can still retain some semblance of a normal life.  Private Hutchinson received an OTH as a result of her Chapter 10.

Some people may sympathize with Private Hutchinson and claim that the Army singled her out for whatever reason.  This position is untenable, false, and is based on an ignorance of Army rules and regulations.  AR 635-200 also provides a means for Soldiers who are in similar situations:  Chapter 5, paragraph 8 (chapter 5-8) covers Family Care Plans (FCP) and governs the separation of those who are unable to maintain an acceptable FCP.  Soldiers who have children and are single or married to another Soldier are required to have an FCP.  An FCP is simply a plan the Soldier has  in place for the care of his/her children in the event the Soldier is deployed.  Designated relatives or trusted friends will assume temporary guardianship for children of deployed Soldiers in a valid FCP; the chain of command must approve an FCP in order for it to be valid.  If a Soldier is unable or unwilling to establish a valid FCP, then that Soldier will be separated from the Army under the terms of Chapter 5-8.  The characterization of service for this chapter is normally Honorable.

The Army does not pursue court-martial proceedings against Soldiers who fall under the terms of Chapter 5-8 without good reason — even if they do miss movement.  The statement that Private Hutchinson’s explanation didn’t pan out, and the fact that she was charged with “various offenses” are very telling.  Without known what exactly she was charged with, I can still draw upon my experience with the military’s legal system and conclude that Private Hutchinson was likely a “problem child” for her unit already.  Courts-martial are time-consuming and detract from the mission; they are not pursued lightly and are a last resort.  Especially a General Court-Martial, which this would have been had she not been “Chapter Tenned.”

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