From the Pasadena Weekly:
[T]he US Army has revised its count of active duty soldiers who have deserted the military, raising that figure by almost 1,000 for fiscal year 2006 alone. Until the new figures were released on March 23, it had been widely reported that the number of deserters and soldiers absent without leave, or AWOL, had been decreasing since the start of the Iraq War except for a slight uptick in the past year.
In fiscal year 2006, a total of 3,301 active-duty soldiers deserted the Army, according to Major Anne Edgecomb, an Army public affairs officer. The Army previously reported 2,343 deserters in 2006, which was a slight increase over the year before. The rate of increase was actually about 30 percent.
In 2005, the Army had reported that desertions had dropped by 17 percent, but the new numbers show they actually rose by at least 8 percent. Numbers reported for the years 2000 through 2004 were similarly flawed. “We simply made a mistake in the way we collected data on deserters,” wrote Edgecomb in an email to the paper. “Understand that we were reporting inaccurate figures not only to the public, but also to the Department of Defense. Clearly this was unintentional.”
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In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.
From the New York Times:
Army prosecutions of desertion and other unauthorized absences have risen sharply in the last four years, resulting in thousands more negative discharges and prison time for both junior soldiers and combat-tested veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army records show.
The increased prosecutions are meant to serve as a deterrent to a growing number of soldiers who are ambivalent about heading — or heading back — to Iraq and may be looking for a way out, several Army lawyers said in interviews. Using courts-martial for these violations, which before 2002 were treated mostly as unpunished nuisances, is a sign that active-duty forces are being stretched to their limits, military lawyers and mental health experts said.
“They are scraping to get people to go back, and people are worn out,” said Dr. Thomas Grieger, a senior Navy psychiatrist. Though there are no current studies to show how combat stress affects desertion rates, Dr. Grieger cited several examples of soldiers absconding or refusing to return to Iraq because of psychiatric reasons brought on by wartime deployments.
At an Army base in Alaska last year, for example, “there was one guy who literally chopped off his trigger finger with an axe to prevent his deployment,” Dr. Grieger said in an interview.
From 2002 through 2006, the average annual rate of Army prosecutions of desertion tripled compared with the five-year period from 1997 to 2001, to roughly 6 percent of deserters, from 2 percent, Army data shows.
Between these two five-year spans — one prewar and one during wartime — prosecutions for similar crimes, like absence without leave or failing to appear for unit missions, have more than doubled, to an average of 390 per year from an average of 180 per year, Army data shows. In total, the Army since 2002 has court-martialed twice as many soldiers for desertion and other unauthorized absences as it did on average each year between 1997 and 2001. ...
Officers said the crackdown reflected an awareness by top Army and Defense Department officials that desertions, which occurred among more than 1 percent of the active-duty force in 2000 for the first time since the post-Vietnam era, were in a sustained upswing again after ebbing in 2003, the first year of the Iraq war.
At the same time, the increase highlights a cycle long known to Army researchers: as the demand for soldiers increases during a war, desertions rise and the Army tends to lower enlistment standards, recruiting more people with questionable backgrounds who are far more likely to become deserters. ... Army studies and interviews also suggest a link between the rising rate of desertions and the expanding use of moral waivers to recruit people with poor academic records and low-level criminal convictions. At least 1 in 10 deserters surveyed after returning to the Army from 2002 to mid-2004 required a waiver to enter the service, a report by the Army Research Institute found. ...
Desertions, while a chronic problem for the Army, are nowhere near as common as they were at the height of the Vietnam War. From 1968 to 1971, for instance, about 5 percent of enlisted men deserted.
Some desert out of dislike for the military lifestyle or because of family problems. For others, it's the war itself that drives them to it:
[S]ince 2003, 109 soldiers have been convicted of going AWOL or deserting war zones in Iraq or Afghanistan, usually during their scheduled two-week leaves in the United States, Army officials said.
With the Iraq war in its fifth year, a new subset of deserter is emerging, military doctors and lawyers said: accomplished soldiers who abscond reluctantly, as a result of severe emotional trauma from their battle experiences.