No Defense for Deserters

In a society that increasingly puts career advancement above loyalty to an employer, it shouldn't be a surprise that the military reported an uptick in desertions last year.

The number of soldiers deserting annually is 2-1/2 times that of five years ago, although the numbers remain less than 1 percent of armed forces personnel (see story, page 1).

Curbing this trend is one of the military's priorities, a task which may be even more difficult, given Pentagon plans Pentagon for major cuts in manpower and bases in order to pay for a missile-based defense system. And the consequences for the military are budgetary as well: It costs some $31,000 to train a new Army recruit.

Still, ever since the military went to an all-volunteer service, it's been difficult to recruit new people in times of economic growth, such as the late 1990s. Recruitment pitches often emphasize what a stint in uniform can do for you, not us. No wonder today's young recruits often see the military as just another employer, which can be left with as little thought (and as little fear of repercussion) as any other. That attitude clearly undermines the respect for authority crucial to the armed services. The "me first" attitude, all too pervasive today, is counterproductive to an effective, team-based fighting force.

Moreover, most deserters get away with a "less than honorable" discharge. Some analysts suggest that might be another reason desertions are up - that people who want out can often simply leave on their own with no marks of "bad conduct" on their record. Those who would serve the country in uniform should have no illusions about the differences between a job in the Department of Defense and a job in the outside world.

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