The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
Where Have All the Deserters Gone?
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
September 14, 2005
You donít hear much about U.S. troops deserting.
But there are a lot of deserters, 5,133 of them in 2004, out of nearly 1.2
million troops on active duty. But that was a one third decline from the 7,648
recorded in 2003. The decline continues, which is probably why it has not made
the news. Military people are not surprised at the decline. Desertion is more
of a peacetime, than a wartime, problem. One exception was the Vietnam
war, which saw itís desertion rate go up as the war became less popular at
home. During the Vietnam period, the deserters were disproportionately
draftees. The draft ended in 1972, and since then, deserters have largely
resulted from volunteers who had problems adapting to military life.
The army has had the most problems, and its desertion rate hit a peak in 2002,
with 4,483 walking away. The army began to screen more carefully for adaptation
problems, and has cut their number of deserters nearly in half. Desertion is
the largest cause of losses in the military, larger than combat, and
non-combat, deaths and serious (resulting in medical discharge)
A deserter is anyone on active duty that is away from their unit, without
permission, for more than 30 days. The military doesnít go looking for
deserters, but instead alerts police throughout the nation. If a deserter has
any encounters with the cops, the desertion will show up on that persons
record, and the deserter will be arrested and turned over to military police.
The deserter is then returned to their unit, where the punishment ranges from
loss of rank and dishonorable discharge, to that, plus up to five years in
prison. The most common punishments are at the low end, although in the last
few years, there have been more cases of deserters being given another chance
to complete their enlistment.
Those arrest warrants for deserters never expire, and some Vietnam era
deserters are still getting picked up. They get the same treatment as do
deserters of more recent vintage. The military never expects to completely
eliminate desertion. Despite increased efforts to keep potential deserters
(usually the less educated and from broken homes) out of uniform, the
rate is expected to go up again once the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is