8,000 desert during Iraq war
By Bill Nichols, USA TODAY
Today" -- -- WASHINGTON — At least 8,000 members of
the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war
began, Pentagon records show, although the overall desertion rate
has plunged since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Since fall 2003, 4,387 Army soldiers, 3,454 Navy sailors and 82 Air
Force personnel have deserted. The Marine Corps does not track the
number of desertions each year but listed 1,455 Marines in desertion
status last September, the end of fiscal 2005, says Capt. Jay
Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Desertion records are kept by fiscal year, so there are no figures
from the beginning of the war in March 2003 until that fall.
Some lawyers who represent deserters say the war in Iraq is driving
more soldiers to question their service and that the Pentagon is
cracking down on deserters.
"The last thing they want is for people to think ... that this is
like Vietnam," says Tod Ensign, head of Citizen Soldier, an anti-war
group that offers legal aid to deserters. (Related story: Marines
hunt Vietnam-era deserters)
Desertion numbers have dropped since 9/11. The Army, Navy and Air
Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in
2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in
2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.
The desertion rate was much higher during the Vietnam era. The Army
saw a high of 33,094 deserters in 1971 — 3.4% of the Army force. But
there was a draft and the active-duty force was 2.7 million.
Desertions in 2005 represent 0.24% of the 1.4 million U.S. forces.
Opposition to the war prompts a small fraction of desertions, says
Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins. "People always desert, and
most do it because they don't adapt well to the military," she says.
The vast majority of desertions happen inside the USA, Robbins says.
There is only one known case of desertion in Iraq.
Most deserters return within months, without coercion. Commander
Randy Lescault, spokesman for the Naval Personnel Command, says that
between 2001 and 2005, 58% of Navy deserters walked back in. Of the
rest, the most are apprehended during traffic stops. Penalties range
from other-than-honorable discharges to death for desertion during
wartime. Few are court-martialed.
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