How to Walk Away… From the Military

Drill sergeant screams

Form a line, pretty please!
By Corporal Shawn M. Toussaint [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


I come from the Baby Boomer generation and was at the tail-end of a little problem we had in South-East Asia called Vietnam. In the sixties, our country was still in the cold war, and our leaders, both Democrat and Republican were paranoid about Communism. I say paranoid, because it was an ideology that wasn’t working. It’s wasn’t working when countries like Russia, China and Cuba had to put up walls to keep people “in” and not “out.” You knew it wasn’t working when people by the scores were trying to defect. In hindsight, it’s clear that it wasn’t working because relative to world history, it didn’t last very long. Lenin and Mao took power at the beginning of the twentieth century and by the twenty-first century, communist Russia had crumbled and China, though calling itself communist, has become a much more user friendly.

Mr. Gorbachev did “tear down that wall,” and students stared down tanks in Tiananmen Square. East and West Germany merged into becoming a world model for economic growth and prosperity, and under-appreciated Cuba is all but open to the west. Of course, there are a few hold outs liked brooding North Korea, and ornery Venezuela, but both are isolated exceptions to the rule. Communism doesn’t work. Its subjects aren’t happy. Happy people don’t get caught in a death-zone trying to breach a wall to misery or gunned down trying to float their way to Miami.

Following World War II and Korea, our leaders, who witnessed the atrocities of communism, were bent on stopping it all cost, even if it meant invading a tiny country on the eastern edge of the Indo-China Peninsula that was about as dangerous to America as the tsetse fly. Hindsight is 20-20. Hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets and universities in the sixties screaming against a war that was sending Americans home in body bags by the thousands. Both democrats and republicans spoke of the “domino effect” of communism: “If we don’t stop em there, it will spread all over the world.” It sounded good and scared a lot of people, but in the end, the fear was overblown, fubar. When the communists in Vietnam won in 1975 and took over the country; did the world crumble? No. Did Communism spread over Southeast Asia? Thailand and Jakarta did just fine, thank you very much! In fact, within twenty years, the other communist countries in the region began a slow and steady decline. By the year 2000, Vietnam was clamoring to return to the world of free trade, bilateral peace, commerce, and tourists. “Communist” Vietnam has become a great travel destination. Former Viet Cong and American Rangers visit battle sites together. Empathy and forgiveness prevail.

In the end, the Vietnam War was wrong for America. Most thinking adults who witnessed it agree. Sadly, over 50,000 men and women died in the conflict. A lot of those individuals were draftees. They had no choice. Well, they did, and it was called public ostracism and jail. A large number left for Canada rather than fight in a war that very few believed in. Do you go to war and kill people simply because the government tells you to? This is the heart of the issue when we talk about walking away from the military. If we’re truly in a shooting war with a bad guy like Adolph Hitler, yea, we have a duty to serve, but when it comes to going to war in Iraq under the pretext of saving the world from weapons of mass destruction, the government had better have its facts straight, I mean really straight, before I or my sons and daughters are sent there.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Hindsight reared its ugly head when it was discovered (or I guess undiscovered) that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence was fatally flawed. As Colin Powell would later famously comment, “we were misled.” This wasn’t some tree-hugging “peacenik;” this was the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Army. We went into Iraq too early. We were justifiably upset by 911, but to invade on the pretext of stopping weapons of mass destruction was wrong, and the fear was greatly overblown. Some people also naively believe we invaded Iraq to stop Al-Qaeda. This is wrong! Al-Qaeda wasn’t an Iraq ally; in fact, Saddam Hussein was at war with them. If Al-Qaeda was the enemy, Saddam Hussein was OUR ALLY. Little political lesson: Al-Qaeda is located in Pakistan and Afghanistan where they are ALSO the enemy of the governments in power.

So what if you’re one of our men and women who volunteered for the military and then get sent to Iraq under the pretext of stopping weapons of mass destruction, only to find out that it was a big lie or at the very least, a gross miscalculation of intelligence?

And Afghanistan is a good example of righteous anger gone too far. Yea, Al-Qaeda was there, but are we really the peace force of the world? The logistics of sending boots on the ground instead of building up Afghanistan’s own forces was too overwhelming. Afghanistan is costing this country billions of dollars A WEEK! Our own involvement should have been limited to covert operatives, guided missiles, drones and over the top intelligence. If we can justify sending a ground force to Afghanistan, then we should be in Pakistan, North Korea and Syria.

The Russians got their ass kicked, and left with their tail between their legs, and we’re also learning that it’s almost impossible to completely destroy an ideological guerilla enemy that lives in the mountains and caves and passes. America needs to get out of Afghanistan and quit worrying about saving face. Just like the rebels who survived and ultimately brought down communism, so will the average citizens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. We’re not a very good police force, and it costs our country way too much at a time when our true unemployment rate (which includes non-working self employed individuals) hovers near 20 percent.

One only has to look at the upheavals in Egypt, Libya and Syria to see that average citizens won’t tolerate despotic rule. So where does that leave the volunteer soldier who signed a contract with the U.S. Government. Let’s examine those who chose not to serve even they’ve been quick to commit troops to combat. Some politicians who didn’t serve in the military aren’t chicken hawks because they’re not quick to advocate war. These are the notorious, flag-waving, God Bless America crowd who talk tough, but who have more recalcitrant qualities than they do moral commitments. They believe in public service, just not the kind where you might get shot, or lose your legs in a non-armor plated Humvee. These are the type who’d criticize John Kerry for playing it safe in a Swift Boat, but who do so from a yacht on the east river. They’re the type that preach for a strong military, but who never volunteer to participate. These are armchair warriors who talk about body counts like they’re algebra proofs and who pontificate about the heroism of soldiers as if it might assuage their own feelings of ham-fisted, spinelessness.

Official Chickenhawk Guard emblem
Attribution: Jimmy Walter – Wiki Media

The Chicken Hawk Hall of Flame


George W. BushMitch McConnellJoe BidenGeorge Will
Ronald Reagan**Haley BarbourCondoleezza RiceHaley Barbour
Bill ClintonDan QualeJohn AshcroftKenneth Star
Dick CheneyBill FristAntonio ScaliaRudy Giuliani
Joe BidenTrent LottDennis HastertRush Limbaugh
Mitt RomneyPhil GrammDick Armey
Chris ChristieFred ThompsonEric Cantor
Carl RoveAlan SimpsonJack Kemp
Harry ReidPat BuchananClarence Thomas
Newt GingrichDonald TrumpGrover Norquist

** Sorry Gipper, but service in the AAF’s 1st Motion Picture Unit during WWII doesn’t count!

Contracts Made to Be Broken

Contracts aren’t moral obligations. Those would be things like murder, adultery, child molestation and theft. Contracts are a promise and commitment by two parties that rely on each other to perform specific duties at a specified price. If there is a breach of duty, a contract becomes voidable which means you can break it. Corporate America knows contracts well. If two companies run into a dispute, it’s not the contract that prevails, but the side that has the biggest and baddest attorneys. If a company wants to weasel out of a contract, it hires a high powered law firm, and litigates the issue to a point where the other side packs up and walks away. They can’t afford the legal fight. The “bully-corp” will find the tiniest flaw in an agreement and turn it into a deal breaker. You don’t think corporations rely on loopholes? Just look at Glaxo Smith Kline who set their business up offshore to avoid U.S. taxes or Microsoft who set up a large subsidiary in Ireland for the same reason, or Merck who’s also avoiding taxes by hiding overseas.

A military contract is no different than a corporate contract, and if one side of the contract breaches its duty, the other has a right to terminate the agreement. We don’t go off killing people just because the government tells us to, even if we agreed to military service with a contract. Governments are sometimes wrong and when they are, they should be held responsible. This is particularly true where they send our soldiers into harm’s way. We’re not talking a game of Chess or Stratego. We’re talking about sending our boys on missions who will come home in body bags. Do citizens have a right to question the actions of their government? Perhaps not, if you live in Iran, but in the United States, you’re damn right. We have a duty to question authority. It’s what made our country in the first place. In 1775, if you were American and pressed into service by the prevailing British government, do you think you had a right to walk away? Of course! In America, our armed forces are composed of volunteers, but this doesn’t give the government carte blanche to make bad decisions. When you volunteer to work for a large corporation and that corporation tells you to dump waste in the Arkansas River, are you justified in quitting, even if you have an employment contract? Of course you are. In fact, in the military, commanders have a responsibility to question an order if they believe it violates their moral principles. If they don’t follow their moral principles and do something like allow an atrocity to occur, they can be arrested and face a court-martial.

What should be in your military contract?

It is important to note that not every part of your military service has to be spelled out in your contract. There are certain benefits and incentives that are authorized by law and therefore do not have to be specified in the contract. This would include things such as the fact that you will receive base pay, be assigned housing and have access to medical care. However, there are many other specifics that should be in your contract. Here’s a review of what you should be aware of before you sign:

Job Description

The enlistment contract should clearly state your job description or Military Occupational Specialty (MOS.) it should also include any additional schools you would like to attend, such as airborne or navy seals. Be aware, for instance, that special operations will have certain language included in the contract if you want to pursue that career choice. For example, those who wish to be Rangers need an option 40 contract ((ehow Article by Liz Frasier: Army Enlistment Contract Options Do not count on being able to volunteer at a later date. While it’s possible to volunteer, you are guaranteed the opportunity if it is in your contract.

Education Incentives (Advertised on TV)

Depending on your goals in the military, you have several options for education incentives. This includes the Post 9/11 GI Bill, college loan repayments, and other options. You might also be offered a college fund which is additional money on top of the GI Bill. This bonus is usually offered to those who are enlisting for jobs that are hard to fill.

Enlistment Bonus

An enlistment bonus is often a substantial sum of money that is offered to the enlistee upon completion of training. You should be aware that the recruiter can’t determine the amount of bonus and it isn’t negotiable with him. The length of time you commit to, or choose a different Military Occupational Specialty might affect your bonus but the recruiter himself can’t raise it. There are several bonus options available based on your enlistment choices. The “” site (( Website with article on Enlistment Benefits: lists active duty enlistments up to $40,000 and non active bonuses up to $20,000.

They also list Army Duty Education Bonuses as follows:

  • 60 + college semester hours, Associate Bachelors or higher degree: $2,000
  • High school graduates with 30 to 59 college semester hours:$1,000
  • Civilian Skills Bonus who posses specific needs like X-Ray certification $5,000
  • A Ranger Bonus of $5,000 after completion of the Ranger indoctrination program, and reporting to their first permanent duty station.
  • Officer Candidate School Bonus for Soldiers who complete Officer Candidate School (OCS) in an eligible area of concentration may be eligible for $10,000.

Deserter Statistics by War (( On Watch “AWOL in the Army, version 2.0”, by James M. Branum and Susan Bassein.))

  • The War of 1812: The desertion rate for American Soldiers was 12.7 percent. Desertion was most common in 1814 when enlistment bonuses were increased from $16 to $124 (a tidy sum in those days) including many men who deserted one unit and enlisted in another to receive two bonuses.
  • The Mexican War: The desertion rate was 8.3 percent. A big contributor to the desertion rate was the California Gold Rush that attracted a lot of men with the dream of instant wealth. (8) Hundreds of soldiers deserted to the Mexican side after Mexico sent out flyers and leaflets to the American side promising bonuses, land grants, and officer commissions. The most famous group of deserters was the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. These men were Catholics from Ireland. At the battle of Churubusco several of these were caught and tried and about fifty of the “Saint Patricio’s were hanged in August 1847.
  • The Civil War: In 1928 an individual names Ella Lonn did a comprehensive survey of desertion during the Civil War ((Lonn Ella Desertions During the Civil War, University of Nebraska Press 1998)). Here are some of her conclusions: The Union army had a total of 197,247 deserters and the Confederate army had 103,400. In the south, North Carolina led the list of deserters with 23,694 and South Carolina had the least with 3,597, This isn’t surprising considering that North Carolina had more pro-union sympathizers than any other southern state, and South Carolina was considered the most vehement supporter of the war. In the Union army. New York had 44,913 deserters and Pennsylvania had 24,050. During the war, 33,000 Union soldiers deserted while in hospitals. Of the 14,146 men court-martialed by the Union army, 14,146 were for desertion. Many desertions occurred after the draft. After the third federal draft in 1864, over the next nine months, 54,660 men deserted. During the last nine months of the war, federal desertion rates increased over 63 percent. The Union executed 147 men for desertion during the war.
  • World War I: In World War I between 1914 and 1920 more than 20,000 servicemen were by court-martial for desertion (which carried the death sentence.) Of these, 3,000 were given the death sentence, and 306 were actually executed. ((BBC History Report by Peter Taylor-Whiffin 3/3/2011 Shot at Dawn: Cowards, Traitors or Victims?))
  • World War II: Over 21,000 U.S. Military personnel were convicted for desertion during the 3.5 years of involvement in the wars on both fronts. Of these, 49 were sentenced to death and one, Eddie Sloyik was actually executed. He stands as the only soldier executed since the Civil War. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion.
  • Vietnam: Approximately 50,000 American Servicemen deserted during the Vietnam War which is a bit ironic since that’s the approximate number of U.S. soldiers who died in the conflict. Many deserters moved to Canada, who openly accommodated them. Sweden was also a popular destination since Sweden allows asylum for foreign troops who desert war, if the war doesn’t align with the current goals of Swedish foreign policy.
  • Iraq: According to the Pentagon, more than 5.500 military personnel deserted between 2003 and 2004 following the invasion of Iraq. By 2006, the number had grown to 8,000. Another report shows that since the year 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches have deserted.

How and Where to Walk Away

If you’re currently in the military and have decided to leave, relax, you’re not alone. The military is a volunteer service (run like a business) and if you really want to leave, the Army in reality doesn’t want you anyway. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. A draft situation might be different, but a volunteer army expects its personnel to be there because they choose to be there, not because they’re forced to; this isn’t Stalinist Russia, or Hitler’s Wehrmacht. For reasons I touched on earlier, you might be disenchanted with the government’s position or its methods used to carry out its goals. You have that right. Don’t worry, you’re probably not going to jail, and you’re certainly not going to be shot; that’s only happened once in the last 100 years. This is particularly true in an election year. Bad politics.

One of the best places to start is the GI Rights Hotline at 800-394-9544. This is a non-government establishment that will help with questions about leaving the military. It’s confidential and you’ll need to leave your first name and phone number and they’ll call you back. If you’re afraid it’s a covert way for the government to identify deserters, relax, it’s not. I tried it myself, and a person returned my call and assured me they don’t work for the government.

Walk-Away Reasons:

  • Consciences Objector: A consciences objector is an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion. If you’ve had a collective epiphany about being in the military because it includes violence and killing, then you shouldn’t be in the military, period. No matter how tough your CO appears to be, you have a right to your own beliefs. That principle is what the United States Constitution is based on — freedom of religion. And yes, religious beliefs change; that’s allowed in our country too. You’re damn right you can become a consciences objector and if you go face to face with some gnarly commander, who doesn’t agree with your view, tell him, you’re as American as he is and that you have rights. The truth is, as tough as he may seem, he will respect your rights and he’d be the person thrown in the brig if he didn’t. My best friend in high school received an appointment to the Air Force Academy because he wanted to be a pilot. Once he got to Colorado Springs, he was told he was too tall, and helicopters were about the only thing he could hope for. For that reason and uh, the kind of harsh treatment plebes get during the first year including eating in unison and sadistic drill instructors, he decided to quit. He told them he had thought about it, and decided he couldn’t kill anyone. He was put through a psychological takedown and placed in a brig and berated by his CO, but alas, they decided it was in everyone’s best interest to part company.
  • Religious Discrimination: If you decide to become a member of the Buddhist faith (see chapter 4) or Jehovah Witnesses, your religion will not allow you to kill someone, or be party to the killing in the form of the military. No sane leader will disrespect your faith. It’s relatively easy to become Buddhist or Jehovah Witness. I suggest you look into it as an option for your own spiritual growth.
  • Gender Discrimination: One of the easiest ways to exit the military is to discover your inner “gay” feelings. Have you decided you’re gay? If so, contact your CO immediately. Under current rules, if you’re caught in a gay act, you will probably receive an Administrative Discharge. My suggestion, buy a copy of “Out Magazine” and get caught waxing your dolphin. This way you don’t have to embarrass any of your friends and co-soldiers.
  • Racial Discrimination: This might be rather tough in today’s military environment considering the Commander in Chief is a Negro, but if you’ve been a victim of discrimination, you’ve got good reason to leave. Hopefully someone won’t leave anonymous discriminatory messages in your sleeping quarters or leave anonymous notes in the books you’re reading, and these messages must certainly NOT be in your own handwriting!
  • Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in all work environments has come a long way. It’s no longer just physically touching in a sexual advance. Harassment involves inappropriate sexual discussions in the presence of another individual, or continually telling dirty jokes like “What’s the difference between a gay man and a refrigerator? The refrigerator doesn’t fart when you pull out the wiener.” Sexual harassment includes putting up nude or erotic pictures in a common area. It also includes come-ons by a commanding officer to a subordinate, even if the commander thinks he’s just being playful. If this occurs, report it and it basically becomes your word against his. Documenting sexual harassment is a sure way to pave the path for walking away.
  • Breach of Contract: I wrote earlier about the various aspects of a military contract. If you think the military has violated specific provisions, then you have grounds to walk away. If you go this route, you better dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s”. This includes have a copy of your contract and pointing out the specific violations as you see it. You might want to discuss the issue first with a military attorney or at the GI Rights Hotline at 800-394-9544

Flag of Canada flying in the wind
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Oh Canada!

For several years now, AWOL U.S. soldiers, sailors, and marines have been heading to Canada as an escape from service. This makes sense. Canada is close and has historically been a troop sanctuary. During Vietnam, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 individuals moved to Canada to avoid the draft or military service if they had already been inducted. Most applied for permanent residency to comply with Canada’s immigration policy. At the time, Canada classified the deserts as refugees and they were admitted as immigrants.

But eh — before you get bent as a Pink Moose, you should know that Canadian policies have changed. For the most part, if you move to Canada and have a job skill and some financial resources, you probably won’t be deported. It takes up to two years to obtain immigrant status once you file. I’m guessing a shooting war might be over by then. Or, you can do as some of our friends south of the border do and marry into the country. I’ll tell you right now, there’s a lovely homeless damsel in any major Canadian city that would love to be your bride. As long as she’s got her Canadian citizenship papers, you’re in. What you do after you’re married is apply for spousal sponsorship. If refused, there is no appeal process.

If you don’t get married you can apply for a refugee status and political asylum. This is a long and potentially expensive process however by the time you’re through, the war might be over.

Viva Mexico!

Here’s my proprietary walk-away idea. If you think you’ll have a hard time with your AWOL decision, consider Mexico. The cost of living is way below the U.S., in fact, if you move to a small city in the interior, the cost of living is ridiculously low. I know of a retired woman who was earning a small pension in the United States who could barely afford rent on a small apartment. In the sleepy little colonial town of Alamos, Mexico nestled in the Sierra Madre foothills of Sonora, she was able to rent a three bedroom hacienda with a courtyard and fountain for $700, and that included a full-time housekeeper/cook.

To live in Mexico you’ll need an FM3 (which is a long term non-immigrant visa) which is the document required if you plan on staying in the country for a long time.

You must have an FM3 to enter into any binding legal contract in Mexico (such as signing a contract to lease property). FM3 visas are granted for one year and are renewable for an additional 4 years (up to 5 years), after your fifth year you can upgrade to an FM2. To be granted an FM3 you need to prove that you have sufficient funds and/or a steady income to cover your cost of living in Mexico. There are various types of FM3 for professionals working in the country, exchange students and those living in Mexico but not working, such as retirees. FM3 visas are granted for various categories that define the purpose of you stay in Mexico. You are only allowed to undertake the activities stated in your visa classification.
FM3 visa categories:

  • Tourist
  • Business Person
  • Work
  • Renter (this is when the foreigner lives out of its own incomes.)
  • Associate Minister of Worship and Religious
  • Student
  • Correspondent (Journalist)
  • Family
  • Other Visitors

In summary, if you’ll be visiting Mexico for more than 180 days per year, you’ll need an FM3.

Official Army Desertion Stats

In an Army study conducted in 2004 on AWOL deserters, some interesting statistics were revealed ((United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences 2004 Study Results and Recommendations from a Survey of Army Deserters and Leaders)):

  • 65 percent of deserters left within the first 6 months of service
  • 88 percent took leave from a training unit
  • 62 percent left because they were homesick
  • 51 percent were dissatisfied with army life
  • 55 percent had a lack of motivation
  • 42 percent didn’t like conduct standards
  • 61 percent felt the army didn’t tell the truth about army life

Support of AWOL Soldiers:

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) supports conscientious objectors and promotes individual and collective resistance to war and preparations for war. CCCO has a wealth of information about conscientious objectors, including Advice for Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces, which includes a step-by-step guide to applying for conscientious objector status, and Helping Out: A Guide to Military Discharges and GI Rights, which provides clear instruction on how to advocate for clients in the military and to become a GI Advocate.

War Resisters Support Campaign is a broad-based coalition of community, faith, labor and other organizations and individuals that have come together to support U.S. soldiers seeking asylum in Canada because they refuse to fight in the illegal war in Iraq.

Iraq Veterans Against War was founded to give a voice to the large number of active duty service people and veterans who are against the war in Iraq, but are under various pressures to remain silent. This link includes a variety of resources for active duty Soldiers, National Guard, and Reserve troops.

Catholic Peace Fellowship supports Catholic conscientious objectors through education, counseling, and advocacy by helping those who choose not to participate in it, one person at a time.

Citizen Soldier provides assistance in defending GI’s who stand against illegal policies. The site includes a variety of recent news articles and editorials covering a wide range of issues relating to service members.

Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center provides accurate, comprehensive, and objective information about Selective Service, military law, military regulations, and administrative procedures to anyone in need of this service, and assists them in applying this information to their own situation and goals.

National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force assists those working on military law issues as well as military law counselors working directly with GI’s. It trains and mentors counselors and beginning military law attorneys in all aspects of military law through training materials and direct communication. It updates changes in military law and policy.

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K.W. Bowlin

Southern California native. Passion for history, particularly big, ugly battles. Loves all stringed instruments. Never hit a good 2-iron in his life. Writes like a fiend. Married to his best friend, high school sweetheart and crack photographer Mary, and has four fantastic, grown kids and a Lhasa Apso puppy named Coby.

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