The Farmington man who was charged with military desertion was being hazed and put in dangerous situations by his team leader when he left his base without permission, according to the man’s father.

Pvt. Austin Seeley, 19, and his friend, Noah Fisher, 18, of Boise, Idaho, whose rank was unavailable but who also is enlisted in the Army, left their base, driving from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to Maine, and turned themselves in Monday at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office once the military issued a warrant for their arrests.

But that’s not the whole story, according to Austin’s father, Anthony Seeley.

During an interview Thursday, Seeley said his son has undergone constant hazing from his unit’s team leader since he arrived at Fort Campbell in October — even to the point of physical injury.

Anthony Seeley, himself a combat veteran, described Austin Seeley and Fisher as “two kids who got caught up in an impossible situation” and felt as though they were out of options. Seeley said Austin had been hesitant to report the hazing to senior officers out of fear and the naiveté that comes with being a new recruit. He eventually did report the team leader’s behavior to his squad leader, but Seeley said no measures were taken to resolve the situation.

Seeley said the squad leader had called him, and he told the squad leader what his son had been going through.

Some of the hazing used by the team leader were typical rituals such as waking recruits up in the middle of the night to make them do push-ups or other tasks. But Seeley said the team leader also made his team go off base to places from which base rules banned them.

On one occasion, during an 18-mile road march, Anthony Seeley said, the team leader forced Austin Seeley to carry 185 pounds of gear and equipment for the extent of the exercise. Seeley said it is normal for recruits to carry gear that weighs from 45 to 65 pounds, but said the amount of weight Austin was made to carry was “illegal.”

Austin suffered an injury to his left leg and foot — possibly breaking a bone in his foot — during the exercise, but he never reported it or sought medical treatment. Seeley said he told his son to go to the doctor so that his injury and the event that caused it would be documented. Austin Seeley told his father that he did not want to do that because he didn’t want to miss any training.

Seeley said the 18-mile march was not even the most dangerous situation the team leader placed his son in during his time at the base.

Recruits training to clear a building that is on fire is a routine exercise, Seeley said. The recruits are supposed to go through several practice rounds before performing an exercise with live fire — but that was not the case for his son and his fellow recruits.

The team leader made them do the drill involving live fire without any practice beforehand, Seeley said.

“He put Austin in a situation where he could have died,” the father said.

As a veteran who went through similar training, Seeley said if recruits don’t receive their training properly, someone can end up getting killed, whether it be on a combat tour or in the field during training.

Seeley described his relationship with his son as being close. He said they spoke on the phone or on a video chat every day. In their conversations, the team leader’s hazing and mistreatment was a topic they discussed constantly.

“I trust my son,” he said regarding Austin Seeley’s allegations.

Seeley described his son as feeling that he was at the end of his rope when he left Fort Campbell last Tuesday.

“He’s fed up,” Seeley said. “He had asked, ‘How am I supposed to do my job?’ with that going on.”

Once Seeley learned that his son and a friend were in Maine, he called his son and told him to turn himself in and handle the situation quickly.

As of Friday evening, Austin Seeley and Fisher still were being held at the Franklin County Jail. However, Seeley said the two were there on their own volition, saying the warrant issued by the military was not valid. He said his son and Fisher had been gone from the base for only two days when the warrants were issued, rather than the several weeks that the police originally had reported.

Anthony Seeley said fugitive from justice military desertion was a trumped-up charge that did not fit the actions of Austin Seeley and Fisher. Seeley said the pair would have had to be gone from the base for 30 days without permission for it to qualify as desertion. However, the U.S. code that defines desertion does not provide a time frame.

It states that “any member of the armed forces who without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently; quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another one of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States is guilty of desertion.”

A representative from Fort Campbell could not be reached Thursday or Friday to clarify the charges and respond to the hazing allegations.

The Franklin County Sheriff also could not be reached Friday for a comment on the validity of the warrant.

The Seeley family has received a lot of blowback since the information on Austin Seeley leaving his base was made public. Seeley said he has received threatening calls — some threatening death — and ridicule on the internet. He also had to go to his 17-year-old daughter’s school to talk to administration because of the way she was being treated since the story was published.

Seeley said he could take the insults and threats, but he was upset that his daughter was brought into the situation.

Seeley said his son and Fisher will be taken to the airport in Portland sometime over the weekend and flown back to Fort Campbell. From there, Seeley said, it was likely that the military would give the men the option to stay and receive some kind of punishment or to leave and be discharged.

After speaking with his son during a short visit at the jail Thursday evening, Seeley said he thinks Austin might stay enlisted in the Army if placed in a unit separate from his current team leader.

“He’s always wanted to be in the military,” Seeley said.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

ehigginbot[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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