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Army cancels leave extension for dad whose newborn son clings to life

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chicagotribune.comArmy cancels leave extension for dad whose newborn son clings to life

By Jeff Long and Sara Olkon

Tribune staff reporters

5:55 PM CST, December 23, 2007

During his two tours in Iraq, Army Sgt. Chris Williams has been in many firefights, but a battle with military brass over a leave extension as his newborn son clings to life has been the scariest and most frustrating of his career.

"It's a lot more stressful," he said Sunday afternoon during an interview at Munster Community Hospital in Indiana, where doctors are monitoring his son Gabriel around the clock.

"I'm an adult. I'm in the Army," said Williams, 24, of Crown Point, Ind. "If something happens to me, I can deal with it. But when it's your kid, it's a lot scarier than anything I've ever been in before."

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"They are fighting a war," said Catherine Caruso, a spokeswoman at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., where Williams' unit is based. "Even one person missing does have an impact. Sometimes hard decisions get made."

Gabriel Douglas Williams was born Tuesday, a seemingly healthy boy weighing in at nearly 10 pounds. But he developed a lung infection that put him the intensive-care unit. One of his doctors, Kongiet Thaera, said that the next few days could be critical for young Gabriel—and that the father should remain close.

"I don't think they should separate the dad at this time," he said, stepping off the floor of the intensive-care unit for a moment to update Williams.

Initially told by Ft Lewis officials that he had been granted an extension to his leave until Jan. 3, Williams learned Sunday morning that it has been rescinded by his commander in Iraq, who left the soldier a voice-mail message that Williams would be "making it harder on himself" if he did not get on the first available plane.

Williams has booked a flight Friday, the first day he could find but can't understand why the original extension through Jan. 3 was canceled.
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"It's like they just write you off and you are a horrible soldier," Williams said. "I used to love what I was doing. I have a lot of military in my family. It was always a good experience. You come home and people are thankful for what you are doing."

Now he's rethinking a career in the military.

His father, Douglas Williams, called it "flabbergasting" that the military can think it's a good idea for his son to lead his troops overseas when his mind is obviously on his wife and ailing son.

"Sometimes, it's up to the judgment of the commander," Caruso said.

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