At least 8,000 members of the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began, Pentagon records show, although the overall desertion rate has plunged since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Since fall 2003, 4,387 Army soldiers, 3,454 Navy sailors and 82 Air Force personnel have deserted. The Marine Corps does not track the number of desertions each year but listed 1,455 Marines in desertion status last September, the end of fiscal 2005, says Capt. Jay Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Desertion records are kept by fiscal year, so there are no figures from the beginning of the war in March 2003 until that fall.
Some lawyers who represent deserters say the war in Iraq is driving more soldiers to question their service and that the Pentagon is cracking down on deserters.
"The last thing they want is for people to think ... that this is like Vietnam," says Tod Ensign, head of Citizen Soldier, an anti-war group that offers legal aid to deserters. (Related story: Marines hunt Vietnam-era deserters)
Desertion numbers have dropped since 9/11. The Army, Navy and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.
The desertion rate was much higher during the Vietnam era. The Army saw a high of 33,094 deserters in 1971 - 3.4% of the Army force. But there was a draft and the active-duty force was 2.7 million.
Desertions in 2005 represent 0.24% of the 1.4 million U.S. forces.
Opposition to the war prompts a small fraction of desertions, says Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins. "People always desert, and most do it because they don't adapt well to the military," she says. The vast majority of desertions happen inside the USA, Robbins says. There is only one known case of desertion in Iraq.
Most deserters return within months, without coercion. Commander Randy Lescault, spokesman for the Naval Personnel Command, says that between 2001 and 2005, 58% of Navy deserters walked back in. Of the rest, the most are apprehended during traffic stops. Penalties range from other-than-honorable discharges to death for desertion during wartime. Few are court-martialed.
More Army deserters are being prosecuted
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
April 10, 2007
With the nation fighting two wars, the number of soldiers deserting has increased and the Army is stepping up prosecutions.
Army statistics released this week show the number of desertions rose in the four years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America prompted the Bush administration's war on terrorism. Desertions then fell for three years but they have been rising steadily again in the last three years as the increasingly unpopular campaign in Iraq has worn on.
Even with the recent increases, less than 1 percent of the Army's active duty force of 507,000 soldiers desert, according to Army data. That compares with 3.4 percent of the 1971 force that fought the Vietnam war, Maj. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
And even with a sizable boost in the rate of prosecutions, the overwhelming majority of cases still are handled through administrative discharge. Some 5 percent of cases go to trial, Edgecomb said.
Junior enlisted soldiers are the most likely to desert, Army researchers say.
More than 60 percent of deserters over the past 1 1/2 years had less than a year in service, Edgecomb said. More than 80 percent have less than three years of service.
"The three primary reasons deserters cite for their actions are dissatisfaction with military life, family problems and homesickness," she said.
The problem "tends to increase in magnitude during wartime" and the Army treats the offense more seriously during war, she said, because it can affect a soldier's unit and its mission.
"We prosecute for desertion much more heavily in a time of war than in a time of peace," said Paul Boyce, another Army spokesman.
Army statistics include the following:
· Desertions rose steadily from about 1,800 in budget year 1998 to about 4,400 in the budget year ended Sept. 30, 2001.
· After the Sept. 11 attacks, desertions trended down for three years. There were roughly 4,000 in fiscal year 2002, 2,600 in 2003, and 2,450 in 2004.
· Desertions rose in 2005 and 2006 and appear to be slightly higher again in the 2007 fiscal year that started Oct. 1. They went from approximately 2,700 in 2005 to 3,300 last year and are at about 1,700 for the first half of this budget year.
· Army statistics for prosecutions were impossible to match exactly against the number of desertions because deserters were counted by fiscal year and prosecutions by calendar year. But as an example of the increased rate of prosecutions in recent years, the Army said 167 soldiers were prosecuted in the calendar year started January 2002 against roughly 4,000 desertions counted in the fiscal year started October 2001. That compared with 59 prosecuted the previous year out of 4,400 desertions.
When a soldier is reporting missing or AWOL — absent without leave — the military attempts to find him or her. After 30 days of consecutive absence, the soldier is classified as a deserter, Edgecomb said.
When the soldier returns or is apprehended, a commander has discretion to prosecute the deserter through a court-martial, discharge, retain and rehabilitate, as well as apply a wide range of administrative punishments.
"Our primary course of action is to attempt to rehabilitate the soldier — reintegrate him/her back into their unit," Edgecomb said.
Administrative actions include counseling, a reprimand, forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank and involuntary discharge.
U.S. deserters lose bid for Canada refugee status
By Randall Palmer and Lynne Olver, Reuters
Novermber 15, 2007
Two Americans who deserted the U.S. Army to protest against the war in Iraq lost their bid for refugee status in Canada on Thursday, and the Canadian government made it clear they were no longer welcome.
The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear appeals from the two men, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, over decisions by immigration authorities -- backed in two subsequent court rulings -- that they were not refugees in need of protection.
Opposing the war on the belief that it was illegal and immoral, the two deserted when they learned their units would be deployed to Iraq, and came to Canada.
If deported to the United States, they say they face a court martial and up to five years in prison.
During the Vietnam War, Canada was a haven for tens of thousands of draft dodgers and deserters. But Hinzman and Hughey were volunteers rather than conscripts.
Their backers urged the government to let them stay in Canada anyhow, but this met with little sympathy from Ottawa.
"Canadians want a refugee system that helps true refugees," said Mike Fraser, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley.
"All refugee claimants in Canada have the right to due process and when they have exhausted those legal avenues we expect them to respect our laws and leave the country."
He declined to comment on whether active steps would be taken to deport the two men to the United States. In any case, it could still take months before they can be sent away, said Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign.
"They won't be deported tomorrow; there is a process," said Zaslofsky, himself a Vietnam War deserter. He said the immigration department would ask if the two men want to do a "pre-removal risk assessment," which can take months.
An immigration spokeswoman, Karen Chadd-Evelyn, said such an assessment would judge whether in the United States they would be at risk of torture, death or cruel and unusual punishment or treatment.
They can also apply for permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
The War Resisters Support Campaign, aware of some 55 deserters who have come to Canada since 2004, said they would press for a political way to let the deserters stay.
"It's up to (politicians) if they want to give resisters access to Canada, as they did during the Vietnam War," Michelle Robidoux said in the group's small Toronto office.
The small opposition New Democratic Party said it would introduce a motion calling on the House of Commons immigrations committee to hold immediate hearings on the issue.
Meanwhile, one stratagem appeared to be for resisters to use the legal system to enable them to stay longer in Canada.
One deserter who still hopes to stay is Kimberly Rivera, from Mesquite, Texas. She came to Canada in February with her husband and two small children while on a two-week army leave, after spending three months on security duty in Iraq.
Despite the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the Hinzman and Hughey appeals, Rivera said she plans to continue filing court appeals in her own case. "I'm sure it's going to be denied but at least it gives us more time here," she said.
(Editing by Janet Guttsman)
Army desertion rate highest since 1980
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
November 16, 2007
Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.
According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.
The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. And efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.
Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.