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% 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% jump since
''We're asking a
lot of soldiers these days,'' said Roy Wallace, director
of plans and resources for Army personnel. ''They're human.
They have all sorts of issues back home and other
places like that. So I'm sure it has to do with the
stress of being a soldier.''
The Army defines
a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave
for longer than 30 days. The soldier is then discharged as a
According to the
Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in
fiscal year 2007, which ended September 30, compared with
nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698
soldiers deserted this year, compared with 3,301 last
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. Efforts are under way
to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to
lessen the burden and give troops more time off
''We have been
concentrating on this,'' said Wallace. ''The Army can't
afford to throw away good people. We have got to work with
those individuals and try to help them become good
Still, he noted
that ''the military is not for everybody, not everybody
can be a soldier.'' And those who want to leave the service
will find a way to do it, he said.
While the Army
does not have an up-to-date profile of deserters, more
than 75% of them are soldiers in their first term of
enlistment. And most are male.
Soldiers can sign
on initially for two to six years. Wallace said he did
not know whether deserters were more likely to be those who
enlisted for a short or long tour.
At the same time,
he said that even as desertions have increased, the
Army has seen some overall success in keeping first-term
soldiers in the service.
There are four
main ways that soldiers can leave the Army before their
first enlistment contract is up:
determined unable to meet physical fitness requirements.
found to be unable to adapt to the military.
they are gay and are required to leave under the so-called
''don't ask, don't tell'' policy.
Wallace, in the summer of 2005, more than 18% of the
soldiers in their first six months of service left under one
of those four provisions. In June 2007 that number had
dropped to about 7%.
The decline, he
said, is largely due to a drop in the number of soldiers
who leave due to physical fitness or health reasons.
rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War -- when they
peaked at 5%. In the 1970s they hovered between 1% and 3%,
which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those
rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between
2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers.
to creep up in the late 1990s into the turn of the
century, when the United States conducted an air war in
Kosovo and later sent peacekeeping troops there.
declined in 2003 and 2004, in the early years of the Iraq
war, but then began to increase steadily.
In contrast, the
Navy has seen a steady decline in deserters since 2001,
going from 3,665 that year to 1,129 in 2007.
The Marine Corps,
meanwhile, has seen the number of deserters stay fairly
stable over that timeframe -- with about 1,000 deserters a
year. During 2003 and 2004 -- the first two years of
the Iraq war -- the number of deserters fell to 877
and 744, respectively.
The Air Force can
tout the lowest number of deserters -- with no more
than 56 bolting in each of the past five years. The low was
in fiscal 2007, with just 16 deserters.
continued increase in Army 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 find. Some are allowed to simply return to their units,
while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.
opinion is the only way to stop desertions is to change the
climate...how they are living and doing what they need to
do,'' said Wallace, adding that good officers and more
attention from Army leaders could ''go a long way to
Unlike those in
the Vietnam era, deserters from the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars may not find Canada a safe haven.
Just this week,
the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeals
of two Army deserters who sought refugee status to avoid the
war in Iraq. The ruling left them without a legal
basis to stay in Canada and dealt a blow to other
Americans in similar circumstances.
The court, as is
usual, did not provide a reason for the decision.
(Lolita C. Baldor, AP)