bureaucrats screwed up some statistics again. This time it was the desertion
rate. No big deal. The army had 3,196 troops desert in 2006, 2,543 in 2005, and
2,357 in 2004. The desertion rate hit a peak in 2002, with 4,483 walking away.
The army began to screen more carefully for adaptation problems, and has cut
their number of deserters nearly in half. Desertion is the largest cause of losses
in the military, larger than combat, and non-combat, deaths and serious
(resulting in medical discharge) injuries.)
The counting error,
attributed to mistakes made by several clerks and supervisors, did not change
the total number of deserters for the period2000-2006. Thecorrected number
is 22,468, compared to 22,586 for the bad count. Most of the errors were
deserters being listed in the wrong year.
The draft ended in 1972,
and since then, deserters have largely resulted from volunteers who had problems
adapting to military life. A deserter is anyone on active duty that is away
from their unit, without permission, for more than 30 days. The military
doesn't go looking for deserters, but instead alerts police throughout the
nation. If a deserter has any encounters with the cops, the desertion will show
up, and the deserter will be arrested and turned over to military police. The
deserter is then returned to their unit, where the punishment ranges from loss
of rank and dishonorable discharge, to that, plus up to five years in prison.
The most common punishments are at the low end, although in the last few years,
there have been more cases of deserters being given another chance to complete
Those arrest warrants for
deserters never expire, and some Vietnam era deserters are still getting picked
up. They get the same treatment as deserters of more recent vintage. The
military never expects to completely eliminate desertion. Despite increased
efforts to keep potential deserters (usually the less educated and from broken
homes) out of uniform, the rate is expected to go up again once the fighting in
Iraq and Afghanistan is over. The current desertion rate, about .5 percent of
the force, is much lower than the peak year for Vietnam era desertions, when
3.4 percent of the force took off.
Bad numbers are nothing
new. For example, the Department of Defense used to report that the number of
combat deaths in the Korean war were higher (by over 10,000 dead) than they
actually were. This was because, early on, someone mistakenly added all the
accidental deaths, world-wide, for the United States military, during the
period of the war (1950-53), to the total combat dead. It wasn't until the
1980s that this got cleared up.
And then there are some
bad numbers that will never be cleaned up. Friendly fire incidents in past wars
were routinely misreported, usually at the lowest levels (friends of those who
got shot, or did the shooting.) Any attempts to get to the bottom of friendly
fire statistics from old wars, would open too may psychological wounds. Same
with the misreporting of dead soldiers as "missing in action" during World War
II. This was often done by the dead soldiers family, so the widow could collect
the soldiers pay (which was higher than widows benefits) for a while longer.
There are a lot of bad numbers out there, and an interesting story behind many