By Eric Dehm
In your military career, did you ever come to the end of a great 4-day holiday weekend and think, at least in passing: “What if I just didn’t go back? It could be a holiday forever!”
I know I did, several times, and it’s ok to admit it. The stress of military life can have that effect on you, but out of a sense of duty and commitment, we always went back to work. Sure there were the occasional young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who didn’t get back quite on time. Maybe they were an hour or two late to muster, or in the rare career-ending case a few days, weeks, or months.
Compared to those lightweights, Jeffrey Michels had, in the parlance of our times, a “hold my beer” moment when it comes to going AWOL/deserting following a holiday.
A moment that lasted four decades.
As first reported by WFTV in Orlando, Michels has been found 40 years, 3 months and 10 days after going missing from Minot AFB in North Dakota following 4th of July weekend in 1977. He was living in Sanford, Florida under the assumed name “Jeffrey Lantz.” He was married, with children, and ran a construction company. He was even the HOA president of his neighborhood at one point. Things were pretty good for this “Lantz” character, and he likely thought he was free and clear.
If social media wasn’t a thing, he might still be.
Unfortunately for Airman Michels, social media is very much a thing, as is the Facebook group “Veteran Doe.” Someone posted a photo of Michels to the group, which helps get the word out about vets who have gone missing, in July which seems to have somehow led to him being located. Though the details of exactly how it happened aren’t yet known.
What is known is that once Michels was located he was arrested by the Seminole County Sheriff and according to WFTV is now in the custody of the US Air Force. Also known is that there’s no statute of limitations when it comes to desertion from the military. So yes, Michels will indeed face the music.
Whether he’ll be able to fit into his old uniforms is another matter altogether.