Joshua Yabut decided to ditch a routine training operation last June.
But this wasn’t a standard case of unauthorized absence. Yabut was in the field with his men in Fort Pickett, Virginia, when he reportedly stole an armored personnel carrier from the Blackstone, Virginia, base and went on a 60-mile joy ride.
After leading police on a two-hour chase at speeds as high as 40 mph, the 30-year-old first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, who still had his service weapon on him, surrendered in Richmond.
Yabut appeared to live-tweet the incident.
Once detained, Yabut told officers his brigade commander had authorized the joy ride as a means to test police responsiveness, a claim the National Guard denied.
A crazy story, but just the beginning of the tale of 1st. Lt. Yabut.
As of late January, investigators say he was back on the lam, this time hopping on a series of flights — beginning in Norfolk — destined for Iraq, according to records obtained by Richmond’s CBS 6.
Court records show that Yabut used his military ID to board a plane flying from the military airport at Naval Station Norfolk to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.
His itinerary to Iraq, which began Jan. 22, reads like Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Investigators say he flew from, in order:
- Norfolk, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida
- Jacksonville to Charlotte, North Carolina
- Charlotte to Toronto, Ontario
- Toronto to Keflavik, Iceland
- Iceland to Berlin, Germany
- Berlin to Istanbul, Turkey
- Istanbul to Iraq on Jan. 26.
Imagine the frequent flyer rewards one could accrue ...
Just two days after arriving in Iraq, however, he flew back to Norfolk, the report said.
Yabut, who was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet prior to his 2019 world tour, reportedly removed the device in transit.
“It’s both amazing and concerning,” Billy Coleburn, mayor of Blackstone, Virginia, told CBS 6. “Not only did he fly, but he took a military flight. ... You would think in the military alone you should be on a no-fly list.”
A spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command told CBS 6 they were aware Yabut had departed from Norfolk Naval Station, but given his valid military identification, policy is to allow personnel and dependents access to flights with available space.
The validity of Yabut’s military ID card, which was kept active at the time so he could access medical care and benefits, has since been rescinded.
“His chain of command has since retrieved his military ID card based on his recently being charged with violating the conditions of his bond," A.A. Puryear, public affairs officer for the Virginia National Guard, told CBS 6.
But the ability to fly while wearing what amounts to a house-arrest device raises some concern, said Col. Matt Bristol, a retired staff judge advocate for the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m surprised that he was able to board a military aircraft at Norfolk Naval Air Station, not withstanding he was wearing an ankle bracelet," Bristol told CBS 6, adding, “It’s hard to say if he’s detached from reality."
With the terms of his bond violated, Yabut was put back behind bars in Richmond.
Yabut’s recent online search history also raised some red flags.
Around the time of his Iraqi expedition, investigators found photos on the officer’s Twitter that “indicated Yabut had been looking into prices of having Denatonium Benzoate shipped from China,” according to the report.
Denatonium benzoate, which can be found in certain cleaning and automotive products, can be used for bomb-making.
Yabut’s public Twitter account, which features pictures of him at an Iraqi airport, also posted information on how to make “train derailment devices” and pressure cooker explosives, according to the report.
Weeks earlier, he posted a dynamite “how to” on making chicken nuggets.
The military is not planning on disciplining Yabut until after proceedings in state court, the report said.
Yabut is currently charged with a felony of eluding police, and is awaiting a May trial in Nottoway on charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.