DUGWAY — Volunteers are planning a search on Sunday for Army Spc. Joseph Bushling, assigned to Dugway Proving Ground, who has been missing since Mother's Day.
The search is being coordinated on an open Facebook page under Bushling's name.
"I've been taken by this story and I'm familiar with the area a little. We're hoping for ATVs, casual or intermediate hikers and anybody else available," said search coordinator Adam Lux. "Please tell friends, family and spouses to join us and some of the Bushling family."
The group plans to search in the area of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.
Bushling disappeared May 8, the day his tour as a medic at Dugway was scheduled to end and a new chapter in his military career was to begin. He was supposed to fly to Ft. Carson, Colo., that day in a transition to nurse training in Texas.
Instead, Bushling called another soldier at Dugway on his cellphone that night, saying his car had run out of gas and he needed help.
Initial searches turned up nothing. The car he was driving and the soldier's hat were found the following Saturday by a Tooele County search-and-rescue team member. The searcher was on an outing with his father when he found the car in a ravine near Fish Springs, 64 miles south of Dugway's main gate. No other physical evidence has been found since.
Last week, a phone call to the family from the soldier's commander at Fort Carson was meant to prepare them for an incoming letter.
Bushling had already been listed as absent without leave, or AWOL, and is now listed, categorically, as a deserter.
Kevin Bushling, the missing soldier's father, shared a copy of the letter. It starts out with harsh, regulatory information about soldiers missing more than 30 days. "Being listed as a deserter means he will be a federal fugitive from justice. His case will then be referred to the FBI for apprehension, resulting in a federal arrest record. He may be apprehended at any time — this is the standard scenario for a soldier who goes missing and it must be included in this letter so you have all the information."
Kevin Bushling said he appreciated getting the heads-up phone call from the commander who wrote the letter. "She said, 'I don't want this to blindside you.'"
Kevin Bushling said his son's commander, Capt. Lisa Taroz, had more to say to him on the phone and acknowledged the family's suffering.
"I also want you to know what happens if we find him and he is not alive and well, as we've discussed previously. If your son met with foul play and we recover him, he is automatically put back on our rolls for accountability for a short period of time while all the necessary work is done to take care of the family," the letter continues. "I know that money and benefits are of no concern to you right now. All you want is to know what happened to your son."
One of the family's frustrations is that any interest or responsibility that exists to find Joseph is fragmented. Joseph Bushling was assigned at Dugway but in a chain of command at Fort Douglas. The Utah National Guard helped in the initial search, but officially was in a stand-by position until being called in to help from someone in Bushling's Army chain of command. Tooele County has also participated in several searches but did not have any responsibility for the soldier's whereabouts.
"If they were in Afghanistan, they would all be designated for that purpose," Kevin Bushling said of the Army, collectively, and what he sees as a lack of interest in finding out what happened to his son. He cited The Soldier's Creed: "I will never leave a fallen comrade."
Fort Carson has not responded to requests for information about how often missing soldiers reach the "deserter" status or what investigative efforts are ongoing in his case.