What Happens To Military Members Who Go AWOL

One of the most common and negative military terms is being absent without leave that is also known as going AWOL. This policy isn’t just for the military as it applies to multiple workplaces that can also be known as an Unauthorized Absence (UA) and a variation used in the Navy when a ship leaves a crewman behind after leaving port known as “Missing Movement.” 

Regardless, all of these military terms come with consequences despite understanding the concept of a military member going AWOL. A military member is considered AWOL when they leave without any notification or permission from the overseeing senior authority figure that can count as being late by one minute or not coming to work for a week. 

Going AWOL in any workplace is a big deal but the military takes it seriously with some harsh consequences. Once enlisted and sworn into the oath of service, any error in timing can result in being seen as going AWOL. Some military members can be considered AWOL for leaving their post without permission for at least 30 minutes or showing up 15 minutes late for the formation lineup. 

 AWOL commonly refers to desertion that is defined as leaving the military with no intent on returning and any military member that is AWOL for over 30 days is declared a deserter. One of the biggest cases of desertion was during the Civil War as 200,000 union soldiers and 103,000 confederate soldiers deserted. 

There are a couple of factors in considering whether a service member has gone AWOL according to the law. Desertion intended to stay away permanently presents common factors such as the accused leaving their unit/organization/place of duty, absence without permission from an authority, at the time of absence the member intended to remain away from the unit, and the accused remains absent until date of apprehension or alleged. 

Another common form of desertion is with the intent to avoid important service or hazardous duty. Some military members expecting to be relieved of duties can desert before the notice of acceptance of resignation. 

Desertion is a pretty serious military crime, but most service members experience certain events that draw them towards deserting the military. Some of the common reasons for desertion are illness, difficulties adjusting to military life (inadequate clothes or food), drinking/drug abuse, homesickness, or avoiding dangerous/difficult assignments. Some service members also consider desertion with dissatisfaction with treatment feeling there is unjust treatment, disagreeing with officers’ decisions, or poor medical treatment. 

Service members deserting a post or going AWOL cannot getaway with it as this serious choice isn’t taken lightly. Service members can face punishments or in the worst-case scenario dishonorably discharged. In cases of a soldier failing to go to their appointed place of service, they can face punishments of being confined for a month, forfeiting two-thirds of their pay for one month, or being reduced in rank to the lowest enlisted grade. This punishment can be carried out for service members for being absent from their unit for three days or less. 

A service member will be dishonorably discharged after being absent for over 30 days along with forfeiting all their pay and allowances along with being demoted to the lowest enlistment grade and confinement for up to one year. Though avoiding these punishments might seem to be a viable option it’s resulted with a near-to-nothing success rate. 

The military doesn’t have to set up a manhunt to find an AWOL service member as they simply issue a federal warrant for arrest that can be easy as getting a traffic stop and the cops checking personal information. The police detain the AWOL service member and return them to the military to face punishment.  

AWOL service members will be imprisoned until the court-martial and conviction for a jail sentence that is equal to the time-of-service absence along with being discharged characterized by Bad Conductor Dishonorable. The only loophole of desertion is in the case of a missing service member that was beyond their control often contributed to another crime that is beyond the control of the service member.