Friday, July 6, 2007

Major Jill Metzger's 18 month leave of absence disappears

Air Force: Major not taking leave
Service still investigating woman’s report of kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

By Nancy Montgomery, Stars and Stripes Mideast edition, Thursday, July 5, 2007

A news report last month was incorrect in saying Maj. Jill Metzger — who made headlines when she went missing in Kyrgyzstan for three days in September and then claimed she had been kidnapped — was to take an 18-month leave of absence from the Air Force, the Air Force has now said.

There is no such thing as an 18-month leave of absence, said Dewey Mitchell, an Air Force spokesman. “That’s just not something people can apply for and do,” he said.

Mitchell said Metzger remained on active duty at Moody Air Force base in Georgia and that a 10-month investigation into Metzger’s mysterious disappearance by the Air Force and the Justice Department was continuing.

“There’s nothing new on that, and hasn’t been for some time,” Mitchell said. “A lot of difficult cases, they last on and on.”

Mitchell said any change in Metzger’s status would likely be announced after the change was made, unless Metzger waived her privacy rights.

The major, a marathon champion, made worldwide news when she disappeared from a department store in Bishkek, near Manas Air Base, just days before her four-month deployment was to end and she was to return to the U.S. and a husband she had married shortly before deploying.

She turned up at a house outside Bishkek and told authorities she had been abducted from the store after someone put an object in her pocket and told her it was a bomb. Then she said she was taken away by minibus and escaped after striking one of the abductors and running away.

She was flown out of Kyrgyzstan shortly after her reappearance, first to Bagram air base hospital in Afghanistan, then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and finally to the U.S.

The Associated Press last month reported Metzger was taking a leave of absence to be with her husband and decide her future, quoting Metzger’s mother, Jeannette Metzger, of Henderson, S.C. Jeannette Metzger did not return phone calls for comment left at her home.

Jill Metzger has declined to speak to reporters, public affairs officials at Moody Air Base said this week; they also said they were precluded from discussing her status.

Capt. Gary Arasin, Moody public affairs chief, said Metzger currently works in a mission support squadron doing administrative work.

The case has attracted a great deal of attention but few facts have been available. Kyrgyz police have been quoted saying that Metzger’s story about how she left the department store is not corroborated by store video, which shows her leaving alone.

They also said vendors near the store told police Metzger was alone when she bought brown hair dye from them, and that U.S. authorities have not responded to inquiries from Kyrgyz authorities.

There have been no reported arrests in the case. But a ban on airmen leaving Manas, imposed after the Metzger incident for security reasons, apparently has been lifted.

Last month in the base newsletter, chaplain Lt. Col. J.P. Minh Vu extolled the base’s many benefits — great climate, no mortars and freedom to go off-base. “We are not in the direct line of fire; we can travel to town, go shopping and enjoy the local culture and many other fringe benefits,” he wrote.

A Web site run by a retired Vietnam veteran,, has made the Metzger case one of its main topics.

The Web site recently reported that its anonymous sources tipped them to what they said was Metzger’s upcoming resignation from the Air Force. Glenn MacDonald, the site’s editor-in-chief, said he was told Metzger also is getting a disability pension.

MacDonald’s Web site has excoriated the Air Force for not releasing information on the case, the news media for not publishing more information about the case, and Metzger, whom he believes fabricated the story and is getting preferential treatment.

“If she had been a ‘he’ or someone without ‘celebrity’ or connections, and done what she did, that person would have been court-martialed by now,” MacDonald wrote in an open letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, posted on the Web site.

No comments: