WWAY was recently contacted by a Camp Lejeune Marine who said he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While deployed in Iraq, his wife filed for divorce, and he was told by family members that their 14-month-old daughter was being seriously neglected. The Marine requested leave to check on his daughter’s welfare and investigate custody options. That leave was initially granted, but then he was ordered back to Iraq almost immediately. While we are not going to hash out these highly personal issues, this brings up an interesting question. What is the US Military doing to protect service members who encounter family issues while they are deployed and in harm's way protecting us? "When my client got home, he had to give the child new clothes because she was in shoes that were two sizes too small for her,” said Pam Wright. “There was no way for her to stand up on those and walk.” Pam Wright is part of the legal team representing the Marine sergeant who contacted us. Wright said he came home from deployment in Iraq to learn his 14-month-old daughter was not walking or talking. Family members claim she had been left by her mother for extended periods of time, and the family dogs had been so neglected they were removed from the home by animal control. But before the sergeant could complete his custody dispute in court, his commanding officer ordered him back to Iraq. "I understand the military can't run on people's personal situations, but when you're looking at the welfare of a child … He couldn't understand what the problem was," said Wright. After the sergeants requests for extended leave were ignored or denied, Pam wrote to his superior officers herself. When that did not work, we called Camp Lejeune for an explanation. No one at Camp Lejeune would talk to us on camera, and we were referred to Marine Corps headquarters in Virginia. "There are some basic guidelines as to what would constitute an emergency leave situation, but really, it's a command issue where a Marine explains his situation to the chain of command, and then they make a determination," said Major Shawn Haney. This sergeant has tried using the chain of command, and even appealed to commanders above his direct supervisor, but still ran into problems. And he is not the only Marine struggling with family issues while serving our country. More than three thousand Marines divorced last year alone, many under the strain of lengthy deployments. And there are more than 100,000 single parents in uniform. Because of that, the North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a law to help military parents. The law orders family courts to grant expedited custody hearings for military members facing deployment. It also allows for military members who are deployed to testify in family court through video or telephone. And the law says when assigning custody, the court cannot hold it against a deployed parent, that their military deployment orders cause temporary disruptions in their children's lives. This law just passed last session, and did not get a lot of media attention. It is so new, many people don't even know about it, including the legal team for the sergeant who contacted us. WWAY called them Tuesday after we learned about the law through our research, and they were excited about one more level of legal protection for their client. The sergeant has also received notice in writing that he will not be required to deploy back to Iraq, which should further help him get this problem resolved through the local family courts.
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