GI Rights Hotline

Military Discharges and Military Counseling

Call 1-877-447-4487

What kind of punishment might I face if I go AWOL or UA?

For people looking for specific guidance about punishments for going AWOL/UA, the phrase "as court-martial may direct" of the UCMJ is not very helpful. Actual punishments can vary from nothing at all to General Court-Martial, which could include a sentence of dishonorable discharge (a felony level conviction) and also could include years of jail time. Typically, punishments range in between these two extremes. In an effort to deter GIs from going AWOL/UA many commands circulate threats of worst case scenarios and unrealistically harsh punishments. (Note: while many people have been told that desertion during a time of war is punishable by death, OIF and OEF are recognized as police actions rather than as congressionally declared wars and no one has received such punishment in decades.) These rumors generate fears and consequently many absent GIs are reluctant to return to the military and resolve the issue. For many people the fears are increased by the mistaken idea that they are the only person in their situation, when in reality thousands of others have done it. In a majority of cases the actual punishments upon surrender/apprehension are less severe than absentees and their families and friends feared. Most cases are resolved without court-martial.

The specific punishments that any one person will face depend on a number of factors, all of which can be discussed with a GI Rights Hotline counselor:

Military branch and component
Duration of the absence
Time in Service
Place of Surrender
Apprehension vs. surrender
Intent of GI
Mitigating factors
Command discretion