ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Captain Steve McAlpin, a longtime Army reservist, displays a faded photograph of himself at age 5 decked out in military garb, complete with plastic helmet and toy machine gun.
Serving the United States is what "I've been wanting to do for my entire life," McAlpin said yesterday, his voice trembling.
McAlpin, 44, who was deployed in Afghanistan most of 2002 and returned home in January, learned this week he is facing insubordination charges that could abruptly end his 25-year military career.
His breach of discipline: questioning the legality of a waiver his battalion was asked to sign that would put his unit back in a combat zone after just 11 months at home. Under federal law, he pointed out, troops are allowed a 12-month "stabilization period."
McAlpin was notified in a memorandum on Wednesday that he was being removed from the 401st Civil Affairs Battalion's battle roster. He said he could face other punishment, including a court-martial and losing rank, over the charges.
Members of the 401st, based in the Rochester suburb of Webster, will be deployed next Wednesday. The commander, Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Carey, charges in his memo that McAlpin had a "negative attitude" and was being "insubordinate towards the leadership" of the 401st.
McAlpin said he questioned the waiver Nov. 22 during a teleconference with Colonel Guy Sands, commander of McAlpin's parent unit, the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade based in Fort Jackson, S.C.
About a dozen other officers refused to sign the waiver of Title X rights, a provision of the US Code since 1953, as well as four enlisted soldiers called to redeploy, McAlpin said.
"Soldiers are proud to serve any time, anywhere. I'd go tomorrow," McAlpin said. "But I have four soldiers that don't want to go.
"This affects the entire Reserve," he said. "If they can start calling up soldiers in violation of this law over and over again, what will that do to our forces? It will decimate our morale and decimate our ability to conduct stable operations."
The memorandum commands McAlpin to clear up his affairs at the unit by Monday, when it bans him from battalion grounds. It also transfers him to the Individual Ready Reserves, whose soldiers can be called up in the event of a national emergency.
Instead of signing the reprimand document, McAlpin attached a note of protest, stating his performance evaluations have been excellent and that his record shows "no pattern of incompetence." He also plans to meet with a military attorney.
McAlpin enlisted in the Army in 1978. He left after three years to pursue a teaching career, but soon afterward joined the Army Reserves. He served in Bosnia in 1996. Last year, while stationed at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, he was a liaison to local Afghan warlords, coordinated humanitarian relief supplies, and organized an English-language teaching program.
When he was presented with the memo, McAlpin said he was "shaking like a leaf."
"I'm looking at something I love more than just about anything -- my service to the Army and my fellow soldiers -- and they're trying to stab me in the back," he said.
"We signed up to fight our nation's enemies, and we are fully prepared to do that. But if they're going to usurp the laws of this country at the expense of our most precious asset, our soldiers, then I will not stand for that, not for a minute," he added.
A spokesman for the 401st, Captain Brian Earley, said McAlpin's questioning of the waiver was only one reason why he was being disciplined. Individual members of the 401st are allowed to refuse to sign the waiver, but Earley said McAlpin was "butting in" for other soldiers. "People who were on the mission, who wanted to go, he was questioning their orders," Earley said. "He was pursuing a non-issue."