Erik Botta believes he’s done right by his country.
Days after 9/11, as a young Army reservist, he volunteered to go to war. He was soon in Afghanistan.
The next year, he was sent out again, this time to Iraq, part of a Special Operations team.
In the next two years, he was sent to Iraq again. And again.
He thought he was done. But now, the Army wants Sgt. Botta one more time.
The 26-year-old Port St. Lucie man has been ordered to report to Fort Jackson, S.C., on July 15 for his fifth deployment. And that has compelled Botta, a first-generation American who counts himself a quiet patriot, to do something he never thought he’d do: sue the Army.
”I’m proud of my service,” he said. “I never wanted it to end like this.”
Nearly seven years into his eight-year commitment to the reserves, the personal costs are higher for Botta. He could lose his home. His job at Sikorsky, working on the Black Hawk military helicopter, could be on the line. He’s halfway to his electrical engineering degree, planning a career in defense work, but his professors say he’ll suffer a significant setback if he is deployed. He doesn’t mention the danger another deployment would bring, but his wife and parents do.
”I’m proud of being in the Army,” he said. “They taught me responsibility. They taught me maturity. And they gave me a good toolbox of technical skills to work with. I think I’d be more valuable to my country at this point by being here, getting my degree and working at Sikorsky.”
In a lawsuit he expects to file this week in federal court in Florida, Botta says he will ask for an exemption or delay so that he can complete his engineering studies. He will also ask the court to prevent the Army from requiring him to report for duty until the legal questions are settled.
How many tours is enough for a reservist, and at what point will the Guard and Reserve just be broken beyond repair?