Louie Castro was officially discharged form the Army more than nine years ago, so it was a bit of surprise when he ended up being arrested at Miami International Airport and put in jail for two weeks on charges that he was AWOL. The charges were the result of a paperwork mess-up on the Army's part, but the drama forced Castro to miss what would have been his last semester before graduating from FSU.
According to Stars and Stripes, the official but editorially independent newspaper of the Armed Forces, Castro joined the army back in February of 2001 when he was only 17. He did in fact go AWOL back in July 2001. He cited the fact he didn't feel he was a good fit for the Army, the fact his mother was struggling financially, and the fact that his heroin-addicted father had been hospitalized.
He was eventually caught during a routine traffic stop, returned to his infantry division and continued to serve until his request for a discharge was granted. He received an "other-than-honorable discharge."
Castro thought he was done with the Army, but he never officially received his Form DD-214 despite being told that all the paperwork had been completed.
Since his dark days with the Army, Castro had turned his life around. He was pursuing a degree at FSU, and his employer told Stars and Stripes he was his best employee.
In December, Castro flew to Europe to visit his girlfriend, an American who teaches English in France. When he returned on January 2 to Miami International Airport, however, he was held on charges that he had gone AWOL.
"I spent three nights in jail in Miami," Castro told the paper, "with people who had felonies, things like aggravated assault."
He spent time in two more Florida jails, and even spent a few days in solitary confinement.
Castro was eventually released and told he must return to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he would be expected to return to life as an Army private long enough for the paperwork to be finished. The drama made Castro miss his first week of classes at FSU, and he eventually had to withdraw for the semester. If only the Army had given him the official paperwork nine years ago, the entire fiasco could have been averted.
The issue still hasn't been ironed out, but Castro is considering legal action.
"There were times when I was really stressing out. In jail I spent nights in tears ... [but] I try to take things easy," Castro told the paper. "If I knew I did something wrong it would be one thing, but I knew deep down that I didn't do anything. I already knew that I paid for the mistake that I made when I was a kid. It was like I already made amends for it."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.