June 11, 2007 — -- Spc. Lisa Hayes, a National Guard reservist facing desertion charges for refusing to return to Iraq in the middle of her child custody fight, has been granted an honorable discharge.
Hayes drove Humvees while in Iraq with the New Hampshire National Guard. But back home, the battle was over custody of her 7-year-old daughter, Brystal.
While in Iraq in December, Hayes learned of possible domestic abuse in her ex-husband's home. She obtained emergency leave from Iraq to seek custody but was ordered back to Iraq before the case was resolved. When she refused to return, she was charged with desertion and faced jail time.
This weekend, the military announced it would grant Hayes an honorable discharge. On "Good Morning America," Hayes called the military's decision "a good outcome" and defended choosing her daughter over her country.
"I really didn't have anybody else to leave her with. … It was a situation where I needed to be here," she said, citing her ex-husband's admission of abuse and alcoholism.
Hayes' struggle is one that the 21,000 single parents serving in Iraq face every day. While critics argue that she should have coped with her situation like other single parent soldiers, her attorney said Hayes' case wasn't so simple.
"This is a mother who had to choose between being here for her daughter or her love for her country," said Hayes' attorney, Linda Theroux.
Divorced parents in combat often give their former spouse temporary custody of their children, but that arrangement doesn't always work out.
"They're over in Iraq, six months, a year goes by with a temporary order. They come back and in almost all cases, the spouse who was in the states is going to end up with custody," said military family lawyer Bruce Clements.
Congress is considering a law to bar judges from awarding custody while the parents are deployed. For now, despite criticism, Hayes stands behind her decision to stay away from Iraq for her daughter.
"There was nobody else physically to take my daughter, and anybody else put in the same situation would have done the same thing," she said.