Desertion in the U.S. Army declined 24 percent last year, to 3,559 (the
army fiscal year runs from October to September). In the last five years, the
U.S. military has had about 30,000 deserters. A deserter is anyone on active
duty that is away from their unit, without permission, for more than 30 days.
About half of them were army. However, about half the troops on active duty
during that period were army. In the last year, the army lost seven soldiers
per thousand to desertion. That's more than twice as many soldiers as were lost
to combat (dead and seriously wounded). Desertion is the largest cause of
losses in the military, larger than combat, and non-combat, deaths and serious
(resulting in medical discharge) accident injuries.
actually has a slightly higher desertion rate. While the navy has suffered far
fewer casualties than the army, the fleet has been at sea for longer periods
since September 11, 2001, and that tends to wear you down. The marines have
about the same desertion rate as the army, and the air force has a much lower
one. None of the combat, or time-at-sea stresses in the air force.
All of the
services see desertion as a failure of someone to adapt to military life. For
example, most of those who desert and say it's "because of the war"
have never been in combat or been exposed to combat stress. They just don't
want to be in the military anymore. It's long been a problem, even after the
U.S. went all-volunteer in the 1970s.
Vietnam war, there were years where the desertion rate was more than three
times what it is now. Part of that was due to the use of conscription, mainly
for the army. Since the end of the Vietnam war, only volunteers are accepted
for the military, and the main problem now is people who have problems adapting
to military life. The current war has meant that about 60 percent of army
personnel will end up in a combat zone. That tends to be a high stress
situation for some, and that often results in desertion. But most deserters
just don't like military life, and are not smart enough to scam their way to an
aspect of desertion is that, if you walk away, the military won't come after
you. It's not worth the effort. Of course, deserters are cut off from veterans
benefits (a substantial part of the overall compensation package), and your
name it put on the national fugitives list. If you encounter the law and they
run your name past this list, you will be arrested for desertion. But even with
that, only five percent of current deserters are court martialed and officially
thrown out of the military each year. Back in the 1990s, only about two percent
of deserters were caught. But since September 11, 2001, national criminal
databases have gotten more thorough, and heavily used. So more deserters are
deserter is caught, he (it's usually a he) is 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 shown leniency, and
given another chance to complete their enlistment.
warrants for deserters never expire, and some Vietnam era deserters are still
getting picked up. They get the same treatment as deserters of more recent
vintage. Fleeing the country does little good. Nearly all foreign countries,
including Canada, refuse asylum to those who volunteered for military service,
and then just walked away. Canada, for example, has a volunteer military as
well, and understands that there other ways to get out of the military besides
just walking away. Canada has begun returning U.S. military deserters who were
unable to obtain legal immigrant status up north, and had claimed political
asylum because they were deserters. In response, some deserters have sought
asylum elsewhere. Recently, an army helicopter mechanic, who deserted in
Germany 18 months ago, to avoid a second tour in Iraq, surfaced and applied for
political asylum in Germany. Despite popular opposition to U.S. operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan, it's unlikely deserters will find any sanctuary in