AWOL: Failure to Report for Duty

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Failure to report for duty is a serious breach for every member of military service. It includes such offenses as absence without leave (AWOL), desertion, and missing movement and implies strict sanctions for each of them. In exceptional cases, as during a war, even the death penalty can be applied for desertion. This essay will argue that a failure to report for duty focus on the causes, examples, and consequences of failing to report to a place of duty.

Types and Causes of Insubordination

Absence Without Leave

AWOL means a failure to go to an appointed place, unreasonable leaving that place, or is otherwise absent from their unit or appointed place of duty. According to the Manual for Courts-Martial (2019), there are several ways of being AWOL. Failure to go to the site of duty assumes that such a place and time were assigned, and the military was aware of them but without authority did not come. The second way is to leave the appointed place without charge. Thirdly, an absence from unit, organization, or place of duty for a specific time with or without intention to avoid all or part of maneuvers or field exercises is also considered AWOL. Lastly, an intended abandoning of watch or guard without authority is also an accusation.

Penalties are applied for every reason mentioned above of being absent without leave. They are typically in the form of forfeiture of pay and confinement, though it depends on the severity of the violation. For example, the three-day leave will result in a maximum penalty of detention for one month and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month. However, AWOL for thirty days more equals desertion and implies stricter sanctions, such as forfeiture of all pay and allowances and one-year confinement, not to mention a dishonorable discharge.


Desertion is almost the same as AWOL but usually implies the permanent leave of a place of duty, though, as it was mentioned above, it also includes absence without leave for more than a month. The Manual for Courts-Martial (2019) highlights different types of desertion. The first type is desertions with the intent to remain away permanently, which implies leaving a place of duty without authority and remaining away until a specific date or apprehension. Desertion with a plan to avoid any vital duty or service with awareness of the necessity of this action is another type. The third form is desertion before notice of acceptance of resignation and relates to a commissioned officer who stopped performing his duties before the approval of resignation. Desertion is a more serious military crime than AWOL and thus, requires punishment in terms of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement of five years. The death penalty remains at the discretion of the court-martial, though it is also an option for desertion during a time of war.

Missing Movement

The last offense related to the failure to report for duty is missing movement. It is a neglectful or intentional missing of one’s ship, aircraft, or unit and includes such elements as knowingly missing it. An example of less strict punishment is discharge, forfeiture of pay, and confinement for one year, as in case of accidental failure. Still, it is complicated to justify that the missing was not intentional. Therefore, missing movement usually results in a dishonorable discharge and two-year confinement. However, in situations beyond the control of a military member is a reason to drop the charges. It can be illustrated through an example of a military pilot who got into a car accident on his way to the aircraft.


It can be helpful to explore the possible causes of such behavior and the motives of the offenders. Albrecht & Koehler (2018) argue that desertion, for instance, is a regular phenomenon during wars, including domestic conflicts. During the civil war in Syria, the problem of deserters was particularly acute and was estimated at one-third of active military personnel deserted. The possible reasons are socio-psychological and economic incentives (Albrecht & Koehler, 2018). The former include moral grievances and fear, whereas the latter relates to considering alternative costs. However, the author argues that both these factors remain insufficient for the decision of an individual to desert.

A critical point contributing to the likelihood of desertion is the lack of trust in the regime and the government a person fights for. In this case, there is no loyalty and incentive to defend the honor of a nation, or as in the case of civil war, a current government or a person. Survival and personal desires become more important than military duty. Another consequence of a regime can be the measures exercised against the opponents. The repressions and violations of human rights reflect in the military members’ involvement in these actions and eliminate the sense of moral justification. In the case of Syria, a factor of ethnicity and religion plays an important role as well, though it is only applicable for the mid and low-ranking officers.

In general, authoritarian regimes present an interesting framework for analysis of the civil-military relations the behavior of military members, including failure to report for duty and insubordination in general. Albrecht (2019) emphasizes two main features of such relations: the military force is widely used in domestic politics rather than only against an external enemy, and the separation between politics and the military is rather vague. He identifies that the possibility of insubordination increases with the prolongation of a violent conflict. It refers both to the conventional armies, as it was in the German Wehrmacht during World War II, as well as to the regular troops, as in the Spanish Civil War. The reason lies in the comparison of risks of legal prosecution for the failure to report for duty, which can include tortures in authoritarian regimes and the chances for survival in the conflict.


To conclude, failure to report for duty is a serious violation of military conduct, and thus, it is severely punished. It includes the absence without leave, desertion, and missing movement, with varying penalties for each of them. Although it is difficult to understand the precise causes for such insubordination, it can be widely observed during protracted violent conflicts, both domestic and with an external enemy.


Albrecht, H., & Koehler, K. (2018). Going on the run: What drives military desertion in civil war? Security Studies, 27(2), 179-203. Web .

Albrecht, H. (2019). Military insubordination in popular mass uprisings. Political Science Quarterly, 134(2), 303-328. Web.

Manual for Courts-Martial. (2019). United States. Web.

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