What Happens When You Go AWOL?

What Happens When You Go AWOL?

September 12, 2019 100 By Bernardo Ryan


The United States military has long prided
itself on being an all-volunteer force, and data from around the world has proven time
and time again that volunteer soldiers routinely outperform and outfight conscripted soldiers. American soldiers can enjoy decent- if not
great- pay, medical benefits during and after serving, a very generous education benefits
package, and a slew of other benefits all meant to entice everyday people to give up
their normal lives and become a soldier. But sometimes service is too much of a burden,
or a new recruit realizes that military life simply isn’t something they are cut out for. Perhaps a soldier objects to being sent to
a combat zone either out of cowardice or on grounds of morality. For many of these soldiers, the only solution
is a drastic one: to go AWOL, or absent without leave. But what happens when you go AWOL? Between 2001 and 2012, during the height of
the global war on terror, approximately 50,000 US service members went AWOL- either permanently
or for short amounts of time. The military defines AWOL status as not being
where ordered to be at the time instructed to be there, so technically being late to
formation can count as being AWOL. Overwhelmingly most soldiers go AWOL for completely
unintended reasons such as being stuck with bad travel plans, or are AWOL for only a day
or two before returning to their unit. Some however go AWOL with the intention to
leave the military permanently. Once AWOL you have thirty days to report back
to duty before you are officially listed as a deserter, and the punishment you face varies
depending on how long you were gone and what you did during that time. Once you return from AWOL status, or are captured
by law enforcement, you will face a military court-martial, which is the same as a civilian
court with some notable exceptions and is exclusively for military service members. Punishments can vary though, and as mentioned
before are typically meted out proportionate to the violation. Going AWOL for a day or two might earn you
disciplinary action from your commanding officer, and can vary depending on their own judgment
from everything from administrative and legal action, to ‘off the record’ punishments such
as harsh mandatory PT sessions and a bevy of very unpleasant chores that will make sure
you no longer have any free time. Under Article 87 of the Uniform Code of Military
Justice, or the laws which govern military service members, individuals who miss movements-
or the departure of a soldier’s unit for a deployment- can be punished in one of two
ways. If a soldier misses the movement on purpose,
as in refuses to deploy when ordered, they can be dishonorably discharged, have all pay
and allowances forfeited for a period of time, be reduced to the lowest enlisted grade- the
lowest rank in their service- or be confined for up to two years. If the soldier missed their deployment because
of their own neglect, but not on purpose, they may receive a bad-conduct discharge-
or Big Chicken Dinner as it’s known in military parlance- forfeit pay and allowances for a
period of time, be reduced to the lowest rank, or be confined for up to one year. It’s important to note that punishments can
be cumulative, so for example you may be forced to forfeit all pay for six months and be reduced
in rank. Under Article 86, soldiers who go absent without
leave are subject to various penalties depending on the nature of their offense. Soldiers who fail to report to their appointed
place of duty- as in being late for work, leaving work early, not reporting to a new
duty station, or miss an appointment- can be subject to confinement for one month, reduction
to the lowest rank, and forfeit two-thirds of their pay for one month. Harsh, but it’s unlikely you’ll face any of
these punishments if you’re just late to work a few times a month, but make it a habit and
you could very well face one of these punishments, or multiple. If a soldier leaves their post without authorization
while on guard or watch duty, but does so without the intent to abandon that post, then
they can face the following punishments: confinement for three months, reduction to lowest rank,
and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for three months. If a soldier leaves their post but with the
intent to actually abandon their post, the soldier could receive a bad-conduct discharge,
forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest rank, and confinement for six
months. If a soldier goes absent for no more than
three days they can face the following: confinement for one month, reduction to lowest rank, and
forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month. Going absent for more than three days but
not more than thirty days can land you confinement for six months, reduction to the lowest rank,
and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for six months. If a soldier goes awol for more than thirty
days they can face dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction
to the lowest rank, and confinement for one year. If they are awol for more than thirty days
and their official awol status is terminated by apprehension, meaning the soldier got caught,
they face all the same penalties plus confinement for eighteen months. If a soldier only goes awol to avoid field
exercises or maneuvers, and not to permanently leave the military, that soldier can face
a bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest
rank, and confinement for six months. Once a soldier is awol for more than thirty
days they can officially be considered a deserter- although there is a prerequisite that they
be found as having gone awol with no intention of ever returning. Desertion is the most serious of offenses,
and punishments vary on how the soldier was discovered after deserting, and why they deserted. If a soldier willingly turns themselves in,
they face a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest rank, forfeiture of all pay
and allowances, and confinement for two years. If the soldier is apprehended by law enforcement
and does not willingly turn themselves in, they face the same punishments except a three
year jail sentence instead of two years. If however a soldier deserted in order to
avoid hazardous duty or shirk important service- such as a deployment to a combat zone- then
they face all the previous punishments and a jail sentence of five years. If however a soldier deserts during a time
of war, the military court has the right to sentence the soldier to death or life in prison. Surprisingly though, the US military very
rarely ever goes after soldiers who go awol or desert, and only around 5% of awol soldiers
or deserters ever face punishment. Typically only those who leave the military
and then draw attention to themselves, such as by becoming anti-war protesters, are caught
by law enforcement, with the military generally happy to let a low-morale troop go and save
money by simply training a new one. With such attractive enlistment boons there’s
little reason for the military to waste time and money chasing down a deserter, a new volunteer
is never far away. Do you think you would ever desert the military? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t’
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