A junior officer stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, will soon face a general court-martial on charges that he deserted from the Army, according to officials and documents obtained by Army Times.
1st Lt. Nikita Keenan commissioned via the service’s officer candidate school in 2019, according to Fort Jackson spokesperson L.A. Sully. Keenan completed a tour in Korea as a logistics staff officer before moving to the South Carolina installation as an assistant operations officer for the 193rd Infantry Brigade.
But by December 2020, he’d had enough of the Army, prosecutors allege. In a statement accompanying the charge sheet, the installation’s top prosecutor cautioned that “all charges are merely allegations” and that “the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
According to a redacted charge sheet provided by Fort Jackson officials, Keenan “absent[ed] himself from his unit” and did so “without authority and with intent to remain away [from Fort Jackson] permanently” on Dec. 23, 2020. The officer remained “absent in desertion” until June 25, 2021, more than six months away from his post, the charge sheet said.
Due to the pending trial, Fort Jackson officials did not provide additional detail regarding how or why Keenan returned, nor did they specify whether he returned voluntarily or was arrested. They also did not offer any information regarding why Keenan may have left.
Army Times was unable to locate contact information for Keenan or his uniformed defense attorneys.
While enlisted troops periodically face desertion charges, it’s rare to see an Army officer go to trial for the crime.
A review of Army court-martial summaries stretching back to mid-2014 shows Keenan is the first officer to go to court-martial over the offense since December 2014, when two officers were tried.
One of those officers, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Franks, was convicted of running away from Fort Drum, New York, in 2009 amid a depressive episode, flying to Europe and fighting in the French Foreign Legion for five years. Franks was convicted of desertion, dismissed from the Army and sentenced to four years in confinement.
Keenan’s court-martial is tentatively scheduled to begin April 25 at Fort Jackson.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.