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Orem police arrest Marine on desertion charge
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 5:33 PM- The Marines couldn't quell his pink eye. When he developed bronchitis and other breathing problems, they told him to keep training. And when an off-putting bacteria took over the back of his legs, the Marines didn't have access to the same, simple cream suggested by his doctor back home.

That's why 20-year-old Austin Lee Sommers went home early after six months in boot camp, said his aunt, who serves as his guardian.

The Marines eventually learned Sommers was at his Orem house and called local police to pick him up Monday night. He now sits in Utah County jail awaiting extradition to an unknown location for military prosecution.

The Marines call Sommers a deserter, along with another Orem man picked up for going AWOL last month, according to Orem police.

But his aunt, Desirae Sommers, said he simply didn't want to be sick anymore.

After more than a year mulling it over, Sommers in January finally signed to join the Marines like his older brother, who is serving a tour in Iraq, Desirae Sommers said. The next day, he was a on a plane to San Diego for boot camp.

Within weeks, the medical problems started, Desirae Sommers said. The first time he called, Sommers reported he had pink eye. The infection got worse, causing his eye to bulge out its socket at one point, and persisted through his April graduation, Desirae Sommers said.

After pink eye, Sommers developed breathing problems, she said.

"He had pneumonia, bronchitis, pink eye. He was constantly with flu," Desirae Sommers said. "He was miserable."

During a 10-day break after graduation, Desirae Sommers said, a local doctor cleared up Sommers' nagging pink eye.

When Sommers returned to San Diego, he developed yet another health problem. This time it was cellulitis, a skin infection caused by bacteria.

"It was a huge, infected sore," Desirae Sommers said. "It had the yuckiest gunk coming out of it."

The Marines put Sommers on bed rest, but doctors did little to improve his condition, Desirae Sommers said.

At the end of July, Sommers showed up at his Orem home. Desirae Sommers said she figured he had a two-week break before basic training in Missouri started.

His aunt took Sommers to a doctor, who applied an antibacterial cream that temporarily cleared up the cellulitis, Desirae Sommers said. Whenever it flared up again, the doctor simply re-applied the cream, she said.

After two weeks, Sommers remained in the house. His guardians pressed him for questions.

"He just said, 'I'm not going back there. I can't go back there,' " his aunt said.

Desirae Sommers said she tried to persuade her nephew to "do the right thing." She thinks Sommers' brother turned him in, prompting a call from Marines headquarters this week to Orem police asking them to arrest him at his house.

Desertion is a crime with a punishment that ranges from a reprimand to a five-year prison sentence, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. During wartime, the maximum punishment is death. Individual military branches decide their own punishments, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a DOD spokesman.

He called desertion "the most egregious way of saying, 'I quit.' "

Most men and women who abandon their post do so mostly because of personal or financial problems, Withington said.

Spokespersons for the Marines were unavailable or would not speak to The Tribune on Tuesday.

rrizzo@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">rrizzo@sltrib.com

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