Military Desertion Rates and the Associated Press

According to America's biggest news agency, the United States is facing what amounts to a desertion crisis in its military. Lolita C. Baldur of the Associated Press writes a story headlined, "Army Desertion Rate Up 80 Pct. Since '03."

"Soldiers strained 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 percent 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 percent jump since last year....Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War - when they peaked at 5 percent."
According to this AP story, 9 in every 1,000 soldiers "went AWOL" in fiscal ending September 30, 2007.  In the year ended September 30, 2006, nearly 7 per 1,000 were AWOL.  The article uses the terms AWOL and desertion interchangeably even though they are not the same.  A deserter is a member of the armed forces who  remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away permanently or goes away from his unit with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service. e.g. during times of war.  Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

When you click on a side-box video on MSNBC's version of the AP Story, NBC's Brian Williams tells us that "the number of desertions is way up since the 6 years we've been at war."  Then Jim Miklaszewski tells us of a dramatic spike in the last two years that appears to be due to multiple combat tours in Iraq.  Miklaszewski  tells us that during the (you guessed it!) Vietnam War, deserters fled to Canada.  Likewise in this war, after 6 months in Iraq an Army PFC fled to Canada with his family... just like Mik's generation did 40 years ago.  And of course they interview the other solider who fled to Canada, who is naturally against the war, and therefore is shown denouncing the war, stating that his reason for deserting was that it was a "bogus war"... no WMD... "no links to international terrorism"....  You've heard it all before.

This is all interesting. But are these rates that AP hypes in its article high or low relative to other periods in history. Relative to other wars, for instance.  What do you think?

According to author Rod Powers  (who spent 23 years in the Air Force), the desertion rates per 1,000 for the Army and Marines from 1997 through 2004 are as follows:




4.58 per 1,000



5.20 per 1,000



6.13 per 1,000



8.16 per 1,000



9.50 per 1,000



9.26 per 1,000



7.60 per 1,000



4.91 per 1,000

Marine Corps



7.94 per 1,000



8.43 per 1,000



9.75 per 1,000



11.66 per 1,000



7.57 per 1,000



6.56 per 1,000



7.14 per 1,000



7.49 per 1,000

Look at the above rates of Army desertion in the years just prior to the Iraq war.  Years 2000, 2001, and 2002 (8.16, 9.5, 9.26) show higher rates than we have had during this terrible quagmire of an Iraq war, with its multiple tours of duty. 

Why doesn't AP correspondent Lolita C. Baldur discuss that? 

Powers states that in the fiscal year the Iraq war began (the invasion was March 2003) the desertion rate was 7.6 per 1,000, the same as 2006, a terrible year for the U.S. in Iraq.  The AP article seems to be confused as to fiscal years.  According to Powers, the desertion rate was quite low, 4.91, for fiscal year 2004 (from October 1, 2003 through September 30, 2004), not fiscal 2003 as stated in the AP article. 

A rate of less that 5 per 1,000 eight months after the start of the Iraq War?  This is a rate that was much lower than the rate prior to the begininng of the Iraq War. 

The AP article also does a poor job of putting these desertion rates in historical context.  It was just a year and a half ago that another news organization was exclaiming how historically low the desertion rates were then:  "U.S. Military Desertion Rate Drops" 

With about 15 minutes of internet research, even a non-journalist can put the Iraq War desertion rates in context.  What was the desertion rate during World War II? 

"Desertion during World War II was no less a problem than in previous wars.  Desertion rates peaked at 6.3% [that's 63 per 1,000] in 1944, but dropped to 4.5% [45 per 1,000] the following year.  During the war, 21,049 soldiers were sentenced for desertion..."   Desertion And the American Soldier: 1776-2006,  Robert Fantina, Page 116.
That was "The Greatest Generation"!  So how great is today's generation of soldiers who have a desertion rate of 1/10th  the rate of The Greatest? 

Of all the guys who served during World War II, over two thirds of them were drafted.  What percent of today's soldiers are draftees?

How do the desertion rates of today's soldiers compare to the rates during the Vietnam War? The article discusses it a bit but here is more: in 1966 the rate was 14.7 per 1,000; by 1970 the Army had a rate of 52.3 per 1,000.  [Vietnam and America: A Documented History , Marvin E. Gettleman page 334.]  The Vietnam rates are all lower than the rate of the Greatest Generation.  The desertion rate for the Korean War was 22.5 per 1,000. [Ibid, Page 334.]

There is nothing new about the AP story.  It's very much in keeping with the mainstream media agenda.  Now that the war in Iraq has turned dramatically in our favor, they are desperately fighting to demoralize the public, discourage volunteers for an all-volunteer army, force a premature withdrawal, and thereby ensure a victory for both al Qaeda and Iran. 

Their reporting is slanted, incomplete, selective, and inaccurate and has a demoralizing effect on the public which in turn makes it difficult to recruit an army so that we can defend ourselves.  Is it any wonder what the nation has stopped buying newspapers and turned off the TV?

Alan Fraser is the father of a United States Marine
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