Last year, when insurgents in Afghanistan opened fire on the base where he was stationed, Master Cpl. Paul Billard stayed in bed. Everyone else grabbed their gear and braced for battle, but the 33-year-old didn’t budge—not even when his friends tried to coax him from his covers by banging on a locker. “I’m immune to that,” he said of the noise. “I’m going to sleep.” Billard will have plenty of time for snoozing now. Twenty-one nights, to be exact. Such was the jail sentence handed down by a military judge, who called Billard’s actions—or lack thereof—“reprehensible.” “Your duty is to follow orders and to ensure the welfare and discipline of your subordinates,” said Judge Jean-Guy Perron. “You failed this duty miserably on 22 May 2006. You let your comrades down in a time of danger.”
Fellow troops were even more disgusted. “In another era, he would have been shot already,” one soldier wrote on a popular military chat room. “I personally will have to restrain myself from stomping his guts out if I ever ended up in the same room as this coward,” said another. Billard’s lawyer, Lt.Cmdr. John McMunagle, says his client is “horrified” by all the negative publicity. “The story was that the guy was too lazy to get out of bed or too scared,” he says. “That’s not the case at all.” In fact, Billard was not charged for staying in the sack. He was charged for failing to don his flak jacket and helmet. “He had a lapse of judgment and that was totally out of character,” McMunagle says. “But he took full responsibility and pled guilty. He said: T was wrong and did a dumb thing.’ So to go to jail for 21 days, I think is excessive.” Billard can only hope an appeal court agrees. “He has a 13-year unblemished career and has all kinds of commendations,” McMunagle says. “Amongst his own chain of command, he is a superstar. If he could just take back one bad decision.” M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.