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AWOL and Desertion

Maximum Possible Punishments

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Let me preface this article by saying that it is extremely unlikely that a person who has been AWOL or in desertion status would receive the MAXIMUM punishment upon return to military control, except in the most aggravating circumstances (such as if someone went AWOL and then went on a crime-spree).

In fact, the vast majority of AWOL and desertion cases are disposed of with an administrative discharge. I'll talk about "probable" punishments in the next section.

The maximum possible punishments shown below assume the member is tried by General Court-Martial, which is the most serious type of court-martials.

Article 87 - Missing Movement.

    (1) If the member missed the movement on purpose: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 2 years.

    (2) If the member missed the movement through neglect: Bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 1 year.

Article 86 - Absent Without Leave. The maximum punishment for this offense depends on the exact circumstances of the absence:

    (1) Failing to go to, or going from, the appointed place of duty (such as being late for work, leaving work early, or missing an appointment): Confinement for 1 month, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 1 month.

    (2) If the member is on guard or watch duty and then leaves their post without authorization, but doesn't intend to abandon the post: Confinement for 3 months, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 3 months.

    (3) If the member is on guard or watch duty and then leaves their post without authorization, with the intent to abandon the post:: Bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 6 months.

    (4) If the member is absence from their unit, organization, or other place of duty for not more than 3 days: Confinement for 1 month, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 1 month.

    (5) If the member is absence from their unit, organization, or other place of duty for more than 3 days but not more than 30 days: Confinement for 6 months, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 6 months.

    (6) If the member is absence from their unit, organization, or other place of duty for more than 30 days: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 1 year.

    (7) If the member is absence from their unit, organization, or other place of duty for more than 30 days and the AWOL is terminated by apprehension: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 18 months.

    (8) If the member goes AWOL with the intent to avoid field exercises or maneuvers: Bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 6 months.

Article 85 - Desertion. This is the most serious of the absentee offenses. Remember the primary difference between AWOL and desertion is intent to remain away from the military permanently.

    (1) If a member deserted, but voluntarily returned to military control: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 2 years.

    (2) If the member deserted and the desertion was terminated by apprehension: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 3 years.

    (3) If the member deserted with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service (and example of this would be a member ordered to deploy to Iraq and then deserts to avoid the deployment): Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 5 years.

    (4) If the member deserts during time of war: Death or such other punishment (such as life in prison) as a court-martial may direct.

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