U.S. Army Officer Sentenced For Desertion in 2009

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AP) -
Lawrence J. Franks Jr., back center with gun, is seen working for the French Legion in Mali in 2013 under the pseudonym Christopher Flaherty. (French Legion)
Lawrence J. Franks Jr., back center with gun, is seen working for the French Legion in Mali in 2013 under the pseudonym Christopher Flaherty. (French Legion)

A West Point-educated American officer who served in the French Foreign Legion after deserting his U.S. Army unit before its deployment to Afghanistan has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Second Lt. Lawrence J. Franks Jr., 28, was also dismissed from the Army during sentencing Monday at Fort Drum, home to the 10th Mountain Division. He was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and desertion with intention to shirk duty, specifically deployment.

Franks, a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, deserted his post in northern New York in 2009 and went to France, where he signed a five-year contract under an assumed name to serve in the Foreign Legion.

During his court-martial, U.S. military officials said Franks deserted to avoid deployment to Afghanistan. His lawyers said Franks was struggling with depression and had other mental issues.

Franks, from Damascus, Oregon, disappeared in early 2009 while serving at Fort Drum, where he was in charge of a medical platoon. Franks told the Times he wanted to serve in Afghanistan but deployment was still a year away. He decided to join the famed French Foreign Legion.

“For the first time in years I wasn’t thinking about killing myself,” he said.

Franks took a flight to Paris, where he signed up with the Foreign Legion under the name Christopher Flaherty. His service included tours in Africa, where his assignments included serving as the personal security guard for a French Army general.

When his five-year contract ended last March, Franks turned himself in to U.S. Army officials in Germany.