By Rebecca LaFlure and Taylor Short
Killeen Daily Herald
A crowd gathered outside the Fort Hood East Gate Wednesday evening calling for the release of a soldier arrested after going absent without leave and refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.
Spc. Eric Jasinski, who suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, pled guilty to desertion during a summary court-martial Wednesday at Fort Hood. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, stripped of his rank and denied two-thirds of one month's pay.
As the sun set, Jasinski's family joined about 24 anti-war protesters, upset and confused by the Army's decision.
The 23-year-old turned himself in to Army officials in December. Jasinski, with the 1st Cavalry Division, went missing at the end of 2008 after being stop-lossed and ordered to deploy to Iraq for a second time.
Fort Hood officials did not provide a comment by press time.
Jasinski's aunt, uncle and two cousins stood solemnly holding signs reading "Free Eric," "Do not jail PTSD" and "Cone?" His parents, Michael and Laura Barrett, said they testified in their son's defense to little effect.
"You've got these Army psychologists coming in here and killing people, and then they're telling my son in five minutes that he's good to go back," Michael Barrett said as cars whizzed down the busy road. Some people honked in support; others shouted profanities.
The Barretts said they heard Jasinski speak of what they called "horrific" details of his 15 months in Iraq for the first time during the court-martial, shedding light on why he had difficulties upon returning and needed treatment.
"I was never aware of what he saw; but in court, he spoke about what he saw," Laura Barrett said, standing near the growing crowd of protesters. "He could've gotten shot and gotten a Purple Heart. That's what he deserves; he served his time."
Jim Turpin drove from Austin to join the rally in support of Jasinski - a friend he knew from the Under the Hood Café. He said Jasinski deserves treatment instead of jail time.
"I just think it's wrong," he said. "(The Army) caused the problem, now they're going to put the problem in jail."
Michael Barrett said he noticed a change in his son when he returned from his first Iraq deployment. A once driven soldier who hoped to go to college turned reclusive upon his return.
"He comes home to us and he can't eat, can't sleep, can't concentrate; he gets angry," Michael Barrett said. "He can't talk to us."
The event was not the first time Under the Hood Café rallied support for a Fort Hood soldier.
Travis Bishop and Victor Agosto, both formally with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, were arrested in August after refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Both have since been released from jail.
James Branum, Jasinski's attorney, said he is currently waiting for Fort Hood officials to accept or deny a request for the jail time to be reduced, or for Jasinski to serve his time in a mental health facility rather than Bell County Jail.
"I wouldn't normally jump through hoops like this for a summary court-martial," he said. "But based on the severity of the case … it's worth fighting for."