Desertion is the act of abandoning or withdrawing support from an entity to which one has given an oath, or has claimed to owe allegiance, responsibility or loyalty.

In a military unit, desertion is the act of leaving the a unit. In some cases, the permanent or temporary nature of their leave, as defined by "intent" bears relevance on their distinction and further judgement as a deserter. Desertion is generally considered a serious crime, particularly during wartime, but punishments can vary widely; from execution to a simple discharge from duty.

In the United States, military personnel become AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave) when they are absent from their post without a valid pass or leave. Such people are dropped from their unit rolls after 30 days and listed as deserters. However, as a matter of U.S. military law, desertion is not measured by time away from the unit, but rather:

  • by leaving or remaining absent from their unit, organization, or place of duty, where there has been a determined intent to not return;
    • if that intent is determined to be to avoid hazardous duty or shirk important responsibility;
  • if they enlist or accept an appointment in the same or another branch of service without disclosing the fact that they have not been properly separated from current service; or
  • if they enter a foreign armed force not as authorized by the United States.

People who are away for more than 30 days but return voluntarily or indicate a credible intent to return may still be considered AWOL, while those who are away for fewer than 30 days but can credibly be shown to have no intent to return (as by joining the armed forces of another country) may nevertheless be tried for desertion.

In the United States, before the Civil War, deserters from the Army were flogged, while after 1861 tattos or branding were adopted to. The maximum U.S. penalty for desertion in wartime remains death, although this punishment was last applied to Eddie Slovik in 1945.

Iraq War

According to the Pentagon over 5,500 United States military personnel deserted in 2003–2004, following the Iraq invasion and occupation. [1] ( It has been alleged that the numbers of deserters is statistically high, and that this represents a rise in dissentership among Iraq troops.

Because the US Army no longer uses the draft, it has been forced to meet its directed orders by various methods, including stop-loss orders (recycled enlistment), wider use of Army reserve personnel. In March, 2005 the maximum age for Army reserve enlistment was raised from 34 to 39.

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