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ARLINGTON, Va. — Just six months into the government’s fiscal year, the Army was carrying almost the same number of deserters on its books as the service registered for all of 2004.

War and stop-loss policies, which prevent voluntary separations from the military, are the likely culprits for the increase, according to Army researchers.

While the numbers include active duty and activated reserve components, officials could not provide specifics on soldiers on Rest and Recuperation, or how many deserters were recruits, etc.

Between Oct. 1, 2004 — the start of fiscal 2005 — and March 30, the Army registered 2,518 desertions, according to figures provided June 28 by an Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Pamela Hart.

In all 12 months of fiscal 2004, the total number of Army deserters was 2,723, Hart said.

The apparent rise in Army desertions reverses a reduction in such absences that began soon after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

As far as “deserting from the Iraq war,” Hart pointed out that this is nearly impossible for a soldier in a combat zone.

The soldier would have no way of exiting the country, unless they left their uniforms behind and found transport to the border, and few soldiers have the language skills to do this, Hart said.

The known exception is the pending case of the U.S. Marine, Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, whose family was from Lebanon.

Before 9/11, Army desertion had increased “dramatically” over an eight-year period lasting from fiscal 1993 to fiscal 2001, according to study conducted by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences at the request of Army personnel officials.

That trend inspired the August 2002 study, “What We Know About AWOL and Desertion,” said that Army desertions rose from 1,284 in fiscal 1993 to 4,795 in fiscal 2001.

But as the war on terror began to heat up, Army desertions began to drop.

By fiscal 2004, which lasted from Oct. 1, 2003, to Sept. 30, 2004, the Army had just 2,723 deserters on its rolls.

But the numbers for the first six months of fiscal 2005 have risen close to the number of desertions the previous year.

The three primary reasons deserters cite for their actions are “dissatisfaction with Army life, family problems and homesickness,” Hart told Stars and Stripes.

But, she added, “although there are more desertion cases, I do not believe the raw numbers indicate an epidemic,” Hart wrote. “The vast majority of our soldiers are serving their country admirably and follow the Warrior Ethos and live by the Soldier’s Creed.”

But the 2002 study warned that the service should brace for a surge in desertions if the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continued.

“Although the problem of AWOL (absent without leave)/desertion is fairly constant, it tends to increase in magnitude during wartime,” the study said.

There is another reason for Army desertions to go up, the Army report said: stop loss, the policy that prevents involuntary separations from the military.

The Army put a “unit” stop loss in place in January 2002 that prevents all soldiers, active and reserve, from leaving the Army not only during their deployments, but for an additional three months after they return to their home stations.

Desertion “can also increase during times, such as now, when the Army is attempting to restrict the ways that soldiers can exit service through administrative channels,” the report said.

Questions and answers about military desertion ...

Q:What is the difference between AWOL and desertion?

A:A servicemember who is not officially on leave, and fails to report to his or her training or duty station is Absent Without Leave (or UA, Unauthorized Absence, in the Navy and Marine Corps).

On the 31st day that a servicemember fails to report to his or her training or duty station, the member’s AWOL status changes to Dropped From Rolls (DFR), or desertion.

Q:Does the U.S. military go looking for deserters?

A:No, the services do not have the manpower to hunt down deserters, except in rare instances — such as members thought to possess top-secret information, or who are suspected to have committed a serious crime.

Q:How do deserters get caught?

A:The services send the names of all deserters to the National Crime Information Center, a nationwide database circulated to civilian law enforcement offices and other government agencies. Deserters can be identified by something as simple as a routine traffic stop.

Q:What happens when deserters get caught or surrender?

A:They are “returned to military control” or sent back to their parent service.

Q:How long can deserters expect to wait for their cases to be resolved?

A:It depends on the service, the unit and the circumstances. Individuals who deserted from Army basic training have reported waiting for two or three months at a Personnel Control Facility before their cases are resolved.

Q:Do deserters go to jail?

A:Very rarely. The vast majority are released with other-than-honorable discharges. In the Army, for example, 94 percent of the 12,000 soldiers who deserted between 1997 and 2001 received such a discharge. A small number of deserters (in the Army, just 6 percent between 1997-2001) may be returned to service, or reassigned.

Q:What are the possible consequences of an other-than-honorable discharge?

A:Typically, it means forfeiting federal education benefits, federal home loans, and any opportunity to obtain a job with the federal government. Some veterans with less-than-honorable discharges have also reported problems entering unions, or obtaining loans from financial institutions.

Source: U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences; the G.I. Rights Hotline; Army Regulation 190-1

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