We Deserted: What Now?

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I’m AWOL. I joined the Army in 2007 at the age of 29. I thought it would be a good way to make a great living and provide my family with health care and housing.

My recruiter lied to me and painted the Army as something from heaven, but it was far from that. I was miserable and my wife was miserable too. My feeling could have affected her because I was in a bad mood every day.

I was treated like crap in the Army. I was talked down to, cussed at -- you name it. Maybe I could have tolerated that if I was 18. but I was 29. Not only was I taking orders from everyone who was higher rank but all of the young cats who were much younger than me.

I did my first deployment in Iraq and came home to a wife who had cheated on me and had terminated a pregnancy when she became pregnant by another man. I was devastated, and I knew it would have never happened had I not been deployed.

I was told you had to get one year from combat before you were deployed again, but I was home 8 months and I was deployed again. Tthis time, I stayed for 15 months in Iraq and my pay was barely enough to take care of my family.

The Army was ruining my life. After being in garrison for a year, of course we know our unit is getting deployment orders to Afghanistan. I said, "I’m not going!" I just couldn’t do it again. I was mentally drained, and I was angry. I wanted to get me and my family together before I exploded and did something that I would regret.

I packed up my family and moved back to my hometown. I’m one of the managers at the hardware store, and one day I plan to own a store of my own. Yes, there are times when I get nervous and think that I will get caught, but I don’t know how they catch you.

Do you know how or if they search for people who are AWOL? Surely, I’m not the only one who couldn’t take it in the Army. It just wasn’t for me. Why can’t people just say I don’t want to do it anymore and leave the Army just like a person would resign from a regular job?

 I wanted to serve my country with honor, but I didn’t sign up to be treated like a slave (no offense to you, Ms. Vicki). But it’s how I was treated: horribly! I’ve been reading about AWOL status online and here’s my question: Is there a statute of limitation when they will stop looking for you? Assuming they are looking for me.

Sincerely,
Sgt. Sheldon

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My husband Sheldon showed me the letter that he wrote to you and I just want to speak the truth on a few things. I could have stayed with him in his Army career with no problem. Yes, I was miserable but he was more miserable than I was. I didn’t know how to help him.

After his first four years, I said "don’t re-enlist," but he got all googly-eyed about the re-enlistment bonus they paid him. The way I see it, he was happy until the money was gone.

He wanted to be able to watch me and keep his eyes on me. I was wrong for cheating and for getting pregnant by another man, but I ended the affair and I terminated the pregnancy.

I know my husband is in trouble and I want him to turn himself in. But he keeps saying if they want him, they will have to find him. He’s working and we are still living -- hand-to-mouth -- to pay bills, groceries, rent and car payments. It’s tough out here trying to make it.

I’m just tired of all the lies. My husband has our family thinking he was released from the Army with honor, but his dad always asks to see his DD214 and he makes excuses. I don’t know what it is, but I know my husband doesn’t have one.

His dad also asks if he has met with a VA counselor for benefits and my husband makes excuses for this too. How long do I have to live with my husband’s lie, Ms. Vicki? It’s not like he will have to go to jail or prison if he turns himself in. What can I do about this?

Sincerely,
Sheldon’s Wife Amy

Dear Sheldon and Amy,

There is one thing I noticed right off the top. You both have kept up with your misery like a diary and made careful notes of who was more miserable than the other.

Sheldon, just for clarification (and no offense to you), but I would never compare serving your country as a soldier in the Army to slavery. Think of it like this: Slaves didn’t get paid. They didn’t have housing managers, EO representatives, IG, legal recourse. They didn’t have health care, a thrift savings plan, the GI bill, commissary or PX privileges etc. They didn’t get re-enlistment bonuses. You get my point?

OK, so you didn’t like being in the Army.  But you were 29 when you enlisted, so you were well over 18. What you should know is that every Monday I go to the Military Entrance Processing Station and watch swearing-in ceremonies. I see the 17- and 18-year-olds as they leave for boot camp. I talk to them and I spend time with their families. What they do is very honorable, and I am humbled to witness the events.

Sheldon, you are not honorable, you are a coward. Now, I have never signed my name on the dotted line to serve my country and I have never been deployed either. However, I’ve never complained, whined, cried about mistreatment -- but then accepted a bonus check before running away..

You are looking over your shoulder every day and you should. To answer your question there is no statute of limitation. One day, you will be stopped for a traffic violation or something and you will be arrested.

To answer your question, Amy, your husband could go to jail. After 30 days, you are no longer considered absent without leave -- you are a deserter. It is a crime punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He could get court-martialed and serve time in jail.

Now, let me be honest. I periodically hear from servicemembers who have had the opportunity to make amends by turning themselves in after a year or so of being deserters. They were reduced in rank and had to repay money. However, they were allowed to serve the remainder of their time on active duty.

Sheldon, I’m not your judge and jury. Your marriage needs some work; you both need to improve your insight, your judgment and maturity. You need to turn yourself in now.

Sincerely,
Ms. Vicki

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Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, is married to an active-duty Soldier and has three sons. She has a Master's of Science in Social Work from the University of Louisville, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and currently works as a therapist with military servicemembers and their families. She provides services for a wide array of concerns such as combat stress, PTSD, couples and marital problems, depression, grief and loss, stress and coping.

Ms. Vicki also writes an advice column "Dear Ms. Vicki" that appears in the Washington Times, the Fort Campbell Courier and the Heidelberg Herald Post. Ms. Vicki also hosts an internet radio show and blogs on her community site with the Washington Times. If you want to ask Ms. Vicki for advice about your military life, please email her at AskMsVicki@military-inc.com.

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