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By JOSHUA COFFMAN
FORT KNOX — The Army will hold a special court-martial today for a soldier accused of going to Canada while his unit fought in Iraq.
Pvt. 1st Class James Burmeister fled to Canada sometime after May 4, 2007, following medical treatment he received in Germany for wounds suffered in Iraq.
Burmeister, originally from Oregon, arrived at Fort Knox, one of two installations to process accused military deserters, in March. Under a special court-martial, Burmeister could face up to one year in confinement and lose two-thirds of his Army pay.
His mother, Helen Burmeister, held a rally late last month outside the Fort Knox gates, asking the Army to release her son, whom she says needs treatment for a head injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We want James to be able to put this traumatic experience behind him so he can begin to heal — both emotionally and physically,” she said in a video from the rally posted on YouTube.com. “I believe my son has done his part. Now it’s time for him to be given the recognition he deserves.”
Fort Knox spokesman Ryan Brus said Burmeister faces a charge of desertion while attempting to shirk important service.
Although many desertion cases end in less-than-honorable discharges, Burmeister’s case will go before a court-martial — and potentially lead to a punitive sentence — since he left his unit as it served in combat.
Deployed from Germany in 2006, Burmeister was assigned to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment. According to various news accounts, his vehicle encountered a roadside bomb.
Brus, who declined to discuss the soldier’s medical history citing medical privacy regulations, said Burmeister arrived in Germany in March 2007. He was reported absent without leave on May 4, 2007, and as a deserter June 3.
Since arriving at Fort Knox, Burmeister has been assigned to a special processing company overseen by the garrison command, Brus said, performing basic details, such as cleaning, manning phones and setting up for ceremonies.
Enlisted in June 2005 as a cavalry scout, Brus said it was likely the soldier completed his initial training at the same post.
One of two installations processing accused deserters, Fort Knox generally sees cases originating from outside the continental United States or east of the Mississippi River. Cases originating west of the Mississippi are processed at Fort Sill, Okla.
Joshua Coffman can be reached at (270) 505-1740.