AWOL in the Military:

A Serious and Costly Problem

FPCD-78-52: Published: Mar 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 1979.

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Over the 4-year period ended June 30, 1977, the military reported 608,000 absence without leave (AWOL) incidents exceeding 24 hours, costing the Government $1.1 billion.

A low AWOL rate may reflect sound personnel leadership, good management, and an effective system of punishments which deters and rehabilitates. On the other hand, a low rate may reflect success in recruiting high school graduates and the quick separation of AWOL-prone people. However, jobs affect AWOL rates regardless of education level and mental ability; people assigned to low-skill or undesirable jobs have much higher AWOL rates than people assigned to higher skill jobs which are generally viewed as more desirable and challenging. Even though better educated and more intelligent people go AWOL less often than others in the same jobs, their AWOL rates increase as the skill level of their job decreases. Although the military justice system authorizes punishment for AWOL, it also permits no punishment and provides no guidance on normal ranges of punishment between these two extremes. The services' practices in dealing with AWOL lack credibility and compromise the deterrent potential in making AWOL a crime. After AWOL offenders are punished, commanders lack the needed criteria to make cost-effective decisions as to whether these individuals should be retained or separated. Inadequate policy guidance combined with differing attitudes among the services and commanders have resulted in wide disparities in the reasons for separation and the types of discharges imposed.

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