Father coming to Utah to help find missing soldier

May 17 2011 - 11:06pm

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(The Associated Press) This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army on Tuesday shows U.S. Army Spc. Michael Bushling, who has been missing for more than a week after phoning a friend to tell him he was having car trouble. Bushling’s vehicle was found about 60 miles from the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, where he was stationed in Utah’s West Desert.
(The Associated Press) This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army on Tuesday shows U.S. Army Spc. Michael Bushling, who has been missing for more than a week after phoning a friend to tell him he was having car trouble. Bushling’s vehicle was found about 60 miles from the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, where he was stationed in Utah’s West Desert.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Army Spc. Joseph Michael Bushling had a tough year following his recent divorce and the suicide last year of his younger brother, but was said to be looking forward to a new post in Texas and a career as a nurse.

He's now missing somewhere in Utah's West Desert.

His father, Kevin Bushling, had planned a trip this week to see his son, who was stationed at the U.S. Army's remote Dugway Proving Ground. The site was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 to study chemical and biological warfare and covers 798,214 acres in the desert along the Nevada border.

Instead, Bushling will fly out from his home in Arkansas to collect his son's things.

A weeklong search has been suspended indefinitely.

"I'm very worried. I really am," Kevin Bushling said Tuesday. "Yesterday was my wife's birthday. He went missing on Mother's Day. It's really been a difficult time."

Bushling disappeared May 8 after calling a friend to report he had run out of gas. His vehicle was found Saturday about 60 miles southwest of the facility's main gate. His Arkansas Razorbacks hat was found Monday about six miles from his abandoned car, but searchers have turned up nothing else.

The effort won't resume until the weekend because many of the search team members are volunteers with regular jobs, and they needed a break after spending up to 12 hours a day for a week roaming the desert and scouring caves, said Wade Mathews, a spokesman for the Tooele County Sheriff's Office.

"They have searched the entire area and haven't gotten any other clues," Mathews said Tuesday.

Army spokeswoman Paula Thomas said officials have no reason to suspect foul play or that the 26-year-old soldier went AWOL. They offered no other explanation or comment.

She said the military has searched the grounds of its facility three times, using Black Hawk helicopters and unmanned aerial drones.

Kevin Bushling said his son was excited about his visit and life in general despite his recent divorce and the March 2010 suicide of his younger brother, Jeremy.

Kevin Bushling plans to fly to Utah today.

"It's been a whole year trying to heal, then this happens," he said. "It's like it's starting all over. It's been awful."

Kevin Bushling said there is no chance his son simply ran off. "I know my son. I talk to him every day, sometimes 15 times a day."

About 850 people live on the isolated base.

Bushling said his son, who drove an ambulance on the base, planned to return home to Arkansas with him before starting a new assignment with the Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he planned to become a licensed nurse.

"Everything he owned he left in his room," Kevin Bushling said. "He had a couple of firearms of his own, and a rifle he borrowed from me. That was in his room. He knows how important that rifle was to me. He wouldn't have left that behind. ... He wouldn't have taken off with just the shirt on his back."

What encourages Kevin Bushling is knowledge that his son spent his first year of service as a medic stationed in South Korea.

"He's pretty dang tough," he said, adding he remained hopeful but has braced himself for bad news.

"I'm prepared for the worst. Everybody is praying that they find him. ... I'm hoping they find him somewhere hungry."

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