AWOL- A Crime? Or a Soldier Quitting a Job?

Absent Without Leave (AWOL).  www.ucmjlawyer.com and www.jamesphillipslaw.com.

We offer self-help legal for AWOL at invisblelawyer.com.  AWOL is a crime under Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The crime itself is problematic because the question has to be asked, “is it really a crime?”  Oh, I know, you hard core military folk are going to disown me for this one.  I mean, here I am, a two time war vet, bronze star recipient, saying that AWOL may not be a  crime.

Now, for all my soldiers that are reading this because you are AWOL and looking for advice, you may just want to scroll to the end of the blog now so that you can get helpful tips for getting out of your predicament.

For all others, follow along, when soldiers go AWOL, they are usually  highly disenchanted with their unit.  Many times they have drug problems or family problems that are causing them to think irrationally.

I have found that there are generally two types of soldiers that go AWOL.  (1) The soldier who has been in for several years, is a junior NCO and has been to Iraq.  Many of these guys have just had it with their chain of command and due to PTSD issues or emotional problems just decide to disappear. (2)  The other type of soldier is the relatively new soldier, virtually a trainee, who doesn’t know how to put in for a voluntary administrative discharge, so he just leaves.

Most soldiers who go AWOL are using it as a means to get a discharge.   A civilian job allows the employees to quit.  I mean, it is reasonable for people to tell their boss to “take this job and shove it.”  The military doesn’t allow you to do that, but really, why should the military be different than civilian employment?  The argument of course is that civilians don’t go to war.

But, this difference creates a problem.  Do we really want people, in an all-volunteer military, to be forced to come to work everyday?

As a legal assistance officer at Fort Campbell, I remember when Fort Campbell had a policy that any homosexual soldier would be out of the Army within 72 hours.  This policy was a result of the Winchell incident, when a soldier was beaten to death for being a known homosexual.  But, many soldiers, who didn’t want to be in the Army, would claim that they were gay in order to get out of the Army.  At Fort Campbell, this was a quick and painless ticket home.  They would get an honorable discharge and an annotation on their DD 214 stating they were discharge for Homosexual Conduct. What was a  little stigma between friends?  The reality was that the soldiers that really wanted to get out of the Army would do and say anything to get out.

For me, I think there ought to be some way that soldiers can get administratively discharged based upon several voluntary reasons.  Soldiers that don’t want to be in the Military should not be there.  A soldier with a bad attitude can drive the whole unit into the ground.

Col. Joseph Anderson, now General Anderson, was the Brigade Commander for 2BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).  Once we got back from Iraq, he had a policy of quickly removing soldiers that were guilty of doing drugs from his units.  He was less interested in court martialling them than he was getting them out of the unit.  The longer a soldier with a drug problem was in the unit, the more disgruntled he would become.  Eventually, the soldier’s bad attitude, use of drugs and insubordination would eventually become like a cancer and spread to other members of the unit.  Getting them out was a means of keeping the unit disciplined and clean.

AWOL has the same effect on a unit.  A soldier who has been AWOL for any period of time becomes “civilianized.”  He has normally decided that he no longer wants to be in the military and he is a cancer within the unit.  He is generally insubordinate.  Many times he no longer has military clothing.  He doesn’t have money. He lives in the barracks and has limited access to the military post’s amenities.  He will hang out with other soldiers that are disgruntled and they will begin to ferment within the unit.

Generally, the AWOL soldier can also be rehabilitated within society as a whole.  Many times they are smart young guys that need more time to mature.  As they become older and more mature, they will regret their bad choices and begin to try to fix their transgressions from their younger days.  I see this when these guys come back years later, grown up and matured, wanting to fix their military records.  They have to go through the slow agonizing process of submitting an application to a Military Discharge Review Board.

Now, for you AWOL guys.  Here is the best advice I can give you.  TURN YOURSELF BACK IN.  Get back within military control and get this thing over with.

The longer you were gone, the more likely you will need an attorney.  But, each military unit has some discretion on how they deal with each and every AWOL.  This means that some units will discharge the soldier with little to no hassle.  Others will be quite severe.

Once you turn yourself into the unit, do not give a statement.  You have Article 31, which means you have the right to remain silent and you have the right to an attorney.  You should not make any statements to the chain of command because even though it seems pretty simple, if they take you to a Court Martial, they still have to prove the charge and usually it is easier to prove a charge when a guy has admitted it than not.

Also, you will be entitled to a Trial Defense Attorney.  You should take advantage of this.  AWOL punishments vary from post to post, so your local Trial Defense Services attorney will be able to give you the lay of the land and help you decide what your best course of action will be.  Many times the TDS attorney can get you administratively discharged rather than have to go through the pain of a Court Martial.

10 thoughts on “AWOL- A Crime? Or a Soldier Quitting a Job?

  1. Generally good thoughts here, but I think your advice for AWOL’s to just turn themselves in is incomplete.

    Of course an AWOL soldier should turn themselves in asap, but where they do so can make all of the difference in the world.

    For soldiers who are AWOL from Basic or AIT (in the Army) and who are DFR’d (dropped from the rolls), they can receive a fairly easy discharge by going to Ft. Sill or Ft. Knox PCF (personnel control facility).

    There is of course some degree of risk of being sent back to their old units, and of course the awol soldier will get a chapter 10 discharge in lieu of court-martial (and an OTH discharge) if they do get processed at Ft. Sill/Knox, but overall it is the fastest way out of the Army (these days 1-2 weeks at either Sill or Knox).

    I wrote an article that discusses the PCF process in more detail at: http://www.nlgmltf.org/onWatch/Onwatch_xx-3_Jan_Feb_2009.pdf

    Also an AWOL soldier should get some mitigation documentation before going back. Normally a soldier has a good reason why they went AWOL (family issues, health issues, command harassment, etc). In most cases, it will help greatly to have mitigation documentation before they go back.

    Anyway I’m enjoying reading your blog. I hope you don’t mind my comment.

  2. “””I see this when these guys come back years later, grown up and matured, wanting to fix their military records. They have to go through the slow agonizing process of submitting an application to a Military Discharge Review Board.”””

    Is it even possible for a person who was discharged with ans oth re 4 kfs to even return to the military. Btw it was the army and i was from AIT.

  3. Yes, but it depends on the service, where you went AWOL and how much you want to stay in. If you are just looking to return and get back out, that is probably what would happen. If you wanted to stay in the military after returning, that is a harder thing to do, but possible.

  4. Thanks for the info posted in your blog. As a vet myself, I agree with your thoughts that getting out of a voluntary military should be no different from quitting a civilian job; this realization has been driven home by my son going AWOL 2 years ago. At first I was constantly urging him to turn himself in and get it over with so he could move forward with his life; however, after reading countless horror stories of the way surrendered AWOL soldiers are treated I am now urging him to first obtain legal counsel. I gained custody of my son when he was 11, at the tender age of 12 he was all of 4 feet away as I was nearly killed by an out of control automobile. He spent the next 4 months living with strangers just to be near me while I was hospitalized, and then took care of me my first year home (I had been crushed between 2 bumpers, drug 170 feet, then rolled over when I rescued a young woman and her 6yo son; my son was in the back of our vehicle watching the whole thing.) From this I know my son to be a good man, and I also know that he most likely suffers from PTSD despite being quite good at hiding his emotions. He went AWOL just after reporting to his first duty station when he got news that his best friend had died and he could not go back for the funeral; I believe that to be the straw that forced his PTSD out. I am currently attempting to find help for him, both to treat his PTSD and to end his ordeal with the Army. Being disabled means I cannot go out and hire an attorney, and my son’s focus right now is on caring for his infant daughter. Are there any people or organizations out there that can help us? I risked my life to save 2 [people I did not particularly care for, there is nothing I would not do for my son and granddaughter. What should I do??

  5. yea an if ur lucky when u go awol the army will dishcarge u without ever goin bck theyll send u your dd214 in the mail at least they did this to me an i havent been bck since leaving so maybe u might get lucky lol…

  6. Hi Thank you so much the information but in my case, I was deployed in iraq back in 2008 and when i came back, i re-enlisted and moved to germany. I am awol since june 2010 because I have problems sleeping at night and that started after we were deployed in fob hunter in iraq where we used to get mortar. i cant think straight and i don’t even go out with my buddies to go to parties when i was in germany and on top of that, my mother had a stroke because of high blood pressure so i talked to my chain of command about it but then i did not really get help from them so i left and spent all my money on hospitalization of my mother back here in asia until i couldnt get my own ticket to fly back so i had to work to come up with the money and now i have it so im ready to go back and report to pcf in ft sill. I am asking for advice since my plan is to report back in ft sill this july and hoping that everything will be straight. thanks

  7. I went AWOL 10 years ago for family issues and I turned myself in after a couple of months and was discharged under less then honorable and I’ve been out since. I made a stupid mistake when I was younger and was wondering if there’s any chance of getting back in the military

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