In the wake of overwhelming evidence that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post and surrendered to the Taliban, there has been new scrutiny aimed at deserters in the Army and what the Pentagon has done about it. Analysis shows that tens of thousands of soldiers have deserted in the last decade, but the Department of Defense has declined to prosecute the vast majority of them.
from Military Times:
The U.S. Army has prosecuted about 1,900 cases of desertion since 2001, despite tens of thousands of soldiers fleeing the service in the face of deadly combat, long and multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and strains on military families.
The data reflects how rarely the military takes desertion cases to court. And it underscores the complexities of such cases as a top military commander reviews the investigation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his Afghanistan post in 2009 and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.
More than 20,000 soldiers have been dropped from the rolls as deserters since 2006, Army data show. Totals for earlier years weren’t available, but likely include thousands more.
In trial cases over the last 13 years, about half the soldiers pleaded guilty to deserting their post. Another 78 were tried and convicted of desertion.
Desertion is relatively easy to prove, former Army lawyer Greg Rinckey said, but circumstances such as post-traumatic stress or family problems are also taken into account.
"A lot of deserters suffered from PTSD or other mental health issues, or they were on their second or third deployment," said Rinckey. Numbers spiked as soldiers began returning to the battlefront, sometimes for up to 15 month deployments.
Some disappearances involved divorce issues or sick children, he said. In other cases, soldiers deserted bases in the United States. Many are of these are handled without going to court martial, with soldiers administratively punished or sometimes medically discharged.
Soldiers who avoid deployment or leave posts in combat zones are more serious cases, particularly if the deserter is responsible for standing guard or protecting others in dangerous places.
"Those are looked at very harshly," said Rinckey, now a partner with the Washington law firm Tully Rinckey, "because commanders have a unit of other people who are looking at that soldier and saying, ‘I don’t want to go either,’ so obviously there has to be an example made."
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This administration has done more to change the culture of the military more than any previous administration since the Vietnam War, and it appears that included in these changes are a lack of consequences for one’s actions.