One of the first women to sign up to become an Army combat engineer is now considered a deserter after being AWOL for 30 days.
Pvt. Erika Lopez was supposed to report to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, on Jan. 4 after convalescent leave. She was considered absent without leave on Jan. 5 when she didn't show. Lopez was dropped from the rolls Thursday, which means she's considered a deserter, said Tiffany Wood, a spokeswoman for Fort Leonard Wood.
"After 30 days in AWOL status, a soldier is considered a deserter, and a federal warrant is issued for his or her arrest," Wood said.
Lopez arrived at Fort Leonard Wood Sept. 22, Wood said. She started training on Oct. 5 and was on week 11 of training when she was sent home on convalescent leave.
Engineer soldiers conduct one station unit training at Fort Leonard Wood, which includes the 10-week basic training followed by advanced individual training. In all, the training is almost 15 weeks long. There are 92 women currently in 12B OSUT, Wood said.
Army officials confirmed that Lopez was the first woman from Tennessee to enlist to be a combat engineer, enlisting on June 26.
The Army opened the 12B combat engineer MOS in June, said Kelli Bland, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
"It is our most popular combat MOS that has been opened to women so far," Bland said.
The first female 12B soldier enlisted on June 18; the first to ship to training did so July 27, Bland said, citing USAREC data.
During the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 49 female 12B soldiers shipped to training. Since Oct. 1, 122 more have shipped, and another 143 are in the Future Soldier Training Program waiting to start training, Bland said.
WVLT, a local news station in Tennessee, first reported Lopez's AWOL status.
According to the station, also known as Local 8 News, Lopez is married and has two children.
"Women can do anything they set their mind to just as well as men," Lopez told the news station when she enlisted. "I don't really see any difference at all. I hope women will want to join."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.