AWOL: First female combat engineer in Tennessee wanted for desertion

© Ahmad Masood / Reuters
The Tennessee woman who made headlines last summer by enlisting in the US Army as combat engineer is now being sought on charges of desertion. A federal warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Erika Lopez enlisted in July last year, just after the US army lifted its ban on women in combat roles. She went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, but was placed on “convalescent leave” at the end of last year.

Private Lopez was reported absent without leave (AWOL) on January 5th, a day after she was due to return to base.

“After 30 days in an AWOL status, a soldier is considered a deserter and a federal warrant is issued for his or her arrest,” Army spokeswoman Tiffany Wood said, announcing the charges.

“Once Lopez is arrested she'll be taken to the nearest military installation and handed over to military police,” Wood told WVLT-TV in Knoxville.

Lopez was the first woman in Tennessee, and the fourth in the US, to enlist in the Army as a combat engineer. The specialized branch of the military serves front-line troops by building bridges, fortifications and roads, clearing minefields and blazing paths for vehicles.

At the time she enlisted, the mother of two told WLTV that she was looking forward to being in the trailblazing role.

“It makes me feel really excited that no woman has ever done it before,” Lopez said.

“You make sacrifices your whole life for your children and for your family, this will be a sacrifice... Women can do anything they set their mind to just as well as men, I don't really see any difference at all. I hope women will want to join.”