What is the difference between AWOL and desertion in the US Army?

Bergdahl topic, obviously.

Desertion and treason I understand, generally.

But I have no idea of distinctions between

AWOL —> Absent for a long, long timeWOL —> Desertion
The penalties must be severely different.

I was under the impression that it involved the intent of the soldier who is away from their post without leave. Intentionally absent without leave, but with intent to return - AWOL. Absent without leave with intent to never return - desertion.

Wikipedia has a pretty decent explanation. Basically if you go awol permanently (to avoid danger, or in a way that shows an intent to not return, ) it’s desertion.

That’s exactly how NPR’s Morning Edition described it this week.

Never had to deal with a deserter, but plenty of AWOLs, or UA (Unauthorized Absence), as the Navy calls them. UA could be for any absence of any short duration, and punishment (fine or reduction in rank or whatever) was meted out by the unit’s commanding officer at Captain’s Mast. I just realized that I have no idea who decides if someone is classified as a deserter; maybe the JAG office? A deserter would, of course, be tried at a court martial and face prison time.

AWOL guys come back on their own. Deserters don’t.

Or are dragged back in the morning with a wicked hang-over.

From a blog of a former Army commander http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2014/06/why-bergdahl-will-not-be-charged-with.html

This is only a ancedote, but I was told about an AUS submariner who was gone for several years, because he got sick of it, and was still welcome back. The Aus Navy position was that it was hard to get and keep qualified submariners, and if he came back, he wouldn’t be paid for the time AWOL, and it wouldn’t count towards his seniority or pension.

:confused: “Captain’s Mast”? I understand it from context, but had never heard of it.

I assumed when you fuck up it’s always a court-martial, and in the Navy it would be in the brig you go until then. (Come to think of it, I have no idea where the word “brig” comes from.)

But of course that makes no sense. The ability to “punish” is part of military seniority as part of normal functioning.

In the Army, isn’t that called a “drumhead” something? Or is that, whatever it is, only in wartime?

Here’s a UCMJ reference: http://www.ucmj.us/category/sub-chapter-10-punitive-articles scroll down about halfway to Articles 85-87.

Summarizing, desertion (Article 85) is leaving with intent to be permanently absent, or intent to avoid hazardous or important duty. In wartime the max punishment is death, and in non-wartime the death penalty is not authorized.

AWOL (Aritcle 86) is pretty much any absence not rising to desertion.

And missing movement (Article 87) covers the case where you stayed in place and your unit left you behind, treating it as more or less equivalent to AWOL.

Note that desertion is an intent crime, whereas AWOL/MM is a strict behavior crime. Proving intent is always a knottier legal problem than proving behavior.

My wife was a USAF JAG. Her gloss is that in her active duty era (1980s), absences over 90 days were legally presumed to be with permanent intent. As with all legal presumptions, it was rebuttable by the defense. Which is not to say all shorter absences got a pass as AWOL.

As with most of the UCMJ, other than strictures on the death penalty, the punishment is left 100% up to the discretion of the tribunal, ranging from a slap on the wrist to life in prison. There are typically service-specific administrative manuals and some case history dictating the “going rate” for various offenses.

Used colloquially, the term “Court Martial” covers several gradations of formality in determining guilt & meting out punishment. At the lowest level the immediate commander simply decides you screwed up & here’s your beating. For more serious matters there’s specialized military lawyers involved and the decision is made by a higher level commander. More serious yet you add in specialist military judge or judges and military juries who decide.

IIRC, Captain’s Mast is the US Navy term for the relatively low-level court martial whereat the ship’s Captain (or shoreside unit commander) is judge, jury, prosecutor, and punisher.

Captain’s Mast is definitively not a court-martial. Captain’s Mast is a form of Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) authorized by Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Exactly. In precise terms, Article 15 is all the procedural stuff for less-than-formal Courts Martial.

What I was trying to say, and probably failed at, was that in the civilian colloquial imprecise use of the term “court martial” to mean any misbehavior & punishment procedure in the military, Captain’s Mast is the small simple procedure for small simple violations & punishments.

Sorry if I threw out a bit too much baby of accuracy with the bathwater of simplification for non-specialists.

It was a little confusing, but essentially correct. A captain’s mast is basically Dad taking away your allowance and confining you to your room. The skipper can call witnesses or decide not to, usually using the written report and having the accuser in the room to answer any questions. A captain’s mast doesn’t require an O-6, just the unit’s commanding officer, which on a small boat could be a lieutenant. The CO can impose a fine, a reduction in rank (or probation for either sentence), restriction to the base or even to barracks room, etc., but not brig time (AFAIK). Could be wrong on that last bit; usually if something is serious enough to warrant time in the can, it also warrants a full-on court martial.

…and AFAIK the Army just colloquially refers to it as “an Article 15 hearing”, or the more formal “Non Judicial Punishment”, rather than having any metaphoric phrase harkening back to ye olde tymes.

As to punishments they can impose, IIRC restriction to certain limits and extra duty are in play for all cases. The scope to impose the more painful penalties of correctional confinement, fine through forfeiture of pay, or reduction in grade varies according to rank and position of both the CO and the person being processed.

Both an Army “Article 15” or a Coast Guard “Captain’s Mast” are Non-Judicial Punishments. Usually, guilt or innocence don’t enter into them, the issue is how guilty are you. The worst one can get is reduction in rank, restriction for up to 3 months, partial pay for up to 3 months, and extra duty during the period of restriction. The best you can get is having it dismissed. For a minor first offense, unless the ruling officer is an ass*, one will probably get probation with the promise that “If you keep your nose clean for the next 6 months, I’ll take the record out of this out of your record and destroy it.”

*I had a run in with a LtCdr (Commanding Officer of Enlisted Personnel) who was a complete ass. The charge was AWOL, with AWOL defined as “Failure to be in the appointed place, at the appointed time, in the appointed uniform.” The issue was the “appointed uniform.” I was keeping my assigned watch as a Section Supervisor. A Master Chief Petty Officer, from a different division from mine and very new to the unit and on duty as Junior Officer of the Day for the FIRST time, wrote me up for being out of uniform (i.e. wearing the Undress Blue uniform instead of the Dress Blue uniform). And the ass of a COEP decided to bring me to Mast over this.

Now, there are some rules for a Captain’s Mast. They have to send someone from your division and this time they sent my Senior Chief Petty Officer. And you have a right to have a Mast Representative. This cannot be a lawyer. I requested that the Executive Officer (a full Commander) be my Mast Rep. Before I was pronounced guilty and given punishment, I was offered an opportunity to explain why I was out of uniform. I enjoyed this part…

First I offered as evidence the photograph of a Coastie wearing the proper Undress Blue uniform that was on a bulletin board in the unit so all could see what the proper Undress Blue uniform was. Then I offered a copy of the Daily Order signed by the COEP that, among other announcements, stated that the Unform of the Day was the Undress Blue uniform. Finally I offered the Order Book for Section Supervisors. Taped to the inside front cover was the standing orders for Section Supervisors; one of which stated the Section Supervisor would wear the Uniform of the Day. This order was signed by the COEP.

After this, the XO interrupted the proceedings and asked to look at my evidence. My SCPO sort of looked at them also and then they had a conversation. Then the XO ordered me, my SCPO, and the Yeoman recording the Mast to step out of the room and wait outside the door. Now, we couldn’t quite hear the entire conversation through the door, but we could make out the COEP saying “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” several times. Then the rest of us were called back in and I was informed by the COEP the Mast was being dismissed. I asked if any record of this would be placed in my Record. The XO said “Record of what? This never happened, right Mr. [COEP’s last name]?” I thanked the XO and everyone was dismissed from the proceeding.

And later that night, the SCPO took me to the Chief’s club where he, our Warrant Officer, and my CPO bought me dinner.

What is the difference between AWOL and desertion in the US Army?

A firing squad. :wink:

I don’t think one has been carried out since WWII (Eddie Slovik)

Well done. I would expect that sort of bullshit from an Ensign or JG, but an LCDR should have known better. I assumed from your username that you were/are an Army Ranger.

This was a LCDR who had reached his level of incompetence. The word was that he had been passed over for promotion 3 times. He was an Academy Grad who thought all enlisted men were scum. There was another story that he had bummed a ride from a Chief during liberty hours somewhere. He made some comment about how inferior enlisted men were because they worked with their hands. The Chief pulled over, stopped the car, and made him get out.

You’d be wrong. Me, jump out of a perfectly good airplane? My username is a tribute to one of my heros, Ranger Doug, the Idol of American Youth, from Riders In The Sky, America’s Favorite Singing Cowboys.

I did, however, get selected by my friends and neighbors to win hearts and minds in II Corps with the 7th Cav Reg of the 1st Cav Div. Garry Owen! When I got out, I was an E-5. After that, I went to school for a couple of years to get an Associate’s in Electronics, then enlisted in the Coast Guard as an ET-2. The Associate’s had more to do with that then the prior service, but what I knew from my prior service made my CG recruit training interesting. Especially for the E-2 who was the Asst Company Commander. I’d obey his orders, but he damned well better address me as Petty Officer Ranger or Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ranger. And I WAS authorized to wear a CIB on my uniforms.