March 16, 2006:
There are fewer deserters in the U.S. military, especially since Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded. Last year, the rate was .24 percent of the total force. That's down from the Vietnam era high (in 1971) of 3.4 percent. Actually, there was another upward trend in the late 1990s (peaking at about .45 percent on September 11, 2001), nearly doubling from the rate in the early 1990s. After 911, the rate started coming down, and has been lower each year.
Most desertions are the result of personal problems, and the U.S. Army changed the way it handled deserters several years ago. Instead of promptly discharging deserters (most of whom either turn themselves in after a few months, or get picked up the next time they show ID to a cop), they were sent back to their unit. The deserter had a talk with his (most deserters are men) commanding officer. In a growing number of cases, the deserter is given another chance, and succeeds at finishing his enlistment.