After you read this fact sheet, please call the GI Rights Hotline (877-447-4487) to talk over your options with a counselor.
Thousands of people contact the GI Rights Hotline each year seeking information about absence offenses. The Army and Air Force usually refer to such offenses as AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave) while the Navy and USMC usually use the term UA (Unauthorized Absence). Such offenses are a violation of Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, (UCMJ) which states that:
Any member of the armed forces who, without authority-
(1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;
(2) goes from that place; or
(3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed;
shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
While it would be illegal for GI Rights Hotline counselors to encourage or assist someone in breaking the law, GI Rights Hotline counselors are available to give specific information regarding absence offenses, the consequences one might face, and ways the situation might be resolved. Our counselors will not tell someone what to do or not do, but they will help someone explore options in light of probable consequences. All calls to the hotline are confidential.
It is also important to recognize and respect that people go AWOL/UA for very different reasons. Some people are looking for a discharge. Some have family emergencies they could not get permission to deal with. Some people leave in a rash move of frustration without giving much thought to the consequences. Still others leave to protect themselves from harassment and threats or to get medical attention for serious physical or psychological problems which the military has failed to treat. Whatever the reasons, GI Rights counselors will discuss the situation. Additionally, the GIs who have gone AWOL/UA have a wide variety of reactions to the consequences of their decision: some feel it was a huge mistake, while others have claimed it saved their lives. Because of these differences, people who are AWOL/UA get differing levels of support and or opposition from different friends and family members who are also concerned about the consequences.