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.