Chris Parks Says He Was Mistaken For An Army Deserter

PHOTO: Chris Parks says He Was Mistaken For An Army Deserter.Courtesy Chris Parks
Chris Parks

It took a few minutes for Chris Parks to realize that when he was taken aside by Homeland Security at the Charlotte, N.C., airport it wasn't just another airport security check. It was when the officer told Parks that he had deserted from the Army a decade ago that the 27-year-old Washington contractor realized he had fallen into bureaucratic hell.

Within days, Parks' head was shaved boot camp style and he was wearing Army issued fatigues, pulling weeds and collecting trash at Fort Knox.

Video: Seattle man detained, accused of going AWOL.Play

"When I got to Charlotte, N.C., I was really happy to finally being going home," said Parks, who remembers being especially anxious to go home from his South American trip because of the hives he had developed while backpacking.

"The customs officials put an X on my forms and asked me to stand to the side. I thought it was a routine search," said Parks.

But Parks told that he quickly learned there was nothing routine about what was happening to him when Homeland Security told him that he was going to be held in custody.

"The official told me that it appears I've deserted the Army and at that point I still don't even know what he's talking about," said Parks. "I thought it had to be a joke or a big mix-up."

Calls made by to the Army about Parks' case were not immediately returned.

"I kept thinking that there had to be a mistake," recalls Parks. "I've had a speeding ticket and I've gone back and forth to Canada and have been in no way hiding. I was on the grid 100 percent. There was no reason that someone looking for me wouldn't be able to find me."

Parks said that it took him about five minutes to realize where the confusion may have stemmed from. In 2000, when Parks had just graduated high school and was 18 years old, he enlisted in the army in Spokane only to decide later that no longer wanted to serve.

Mistaken for Deserter, Head Shaved and Sent to Boot Camp

"I was young and I was trying to figure out what I was doing with my life," said Parks, who now lives in Washington State where he works as a general contractor and as a fisherman. "My heart wasn't really in it and I didn't want to commit myself to anything quite yet."

According to Parks, he was blunt with this recruiter about his desire to de-enlist, but was told to take an oath anyway and was later made to write a two page summary of why he had decided to not pursue a career in the military.

"A couple of recruiters gave me a lecture about how a good American would make a different choice, but when it was all over they told me I was free to go," said Parks. "That was the last time I talked to anyone from the Army, and that was in late August of 2000."

Nevertheless, within an hour of arriving in Charlotte, N.C., on April 8, Parks said a sheriff took him to the nearby Mecklenburg County Jail where he was issued an orange jumpsuit and was held for a week for being a deserter.

Online records viewed by confirm that Parks was held at Mecklenburg from April 8 until April 15.

"County jail is quite a sight to behold," said Parks. "Of the entire experience, I'd say the county jail was by far the most unpleasant."

Parks said that it took three days before he was able to talk to his fellow inmates because of the shock he endured, and was forced to sleep on the floor with up to 60 other inmates because of prison overcrowding.

After one week in the jail, Parks was given documents – including a military flight voucher he says he was asked to reimburse – and told to fly to the Fort Knox military base in Kentucky.

"People ask me why I didn't just try to fly home right then, but after what I had seen I knew I had to get it sorted out," said Parks. "I knew if I tried to just escape, I'd be in big, big trouble."

Once he arrived at Fort Knox, Parks says he was processed, issued fatigues and boots and told to sit while his hair was shaved off.

"After that, it was just like 'OK, you're in this room, here are your blankets, go," said Parks.

Army 'Deserter' Collected Trash in Boot Camp

"I had never even been to basic training and I was standing there just thinking, what am I supposed to do?" he said.

Parks says he spent the next week doing chores handed down by the Army, including collecting trash and pulling weeds. Eventually given the opportunity to meet with a lawyer, Parks explained what had happened.

"I told the investigator the whole story, and he wasn't apologetic," said Parks. "He didn't really care."

Today, Parks is on indefinite leave from the military as he waits at home in Spokane for paperwork from the military that he says will detail his entire saga.

His says he hopes his experience will teach recent high school graduates not to be so quick to believe what Army recruiters tell them.

"I hope that people are going to be more aware that you can't just trust these people, these recruiters, who come in and try to make all these big wonderful promises to these kids," said Parks.

Parks says that he lost $1,500 in expenses in addition to lost time at work during the ordeal.

Besides getting the Army to stand down on its attempt to make him a soldier, an apology is what Parks really has his heart set on, despite being pessimistic about the likelihood that he'll ever get one.

"When it boils down to it, who is going to say sorry to me?" said Parks, who is currently searching for a lawyer who is willing to represent him.

"An apology and some money would be enough to make it all go away," he said.