Although the maximum punishment for a deserter during a time of declared war is death, no U.S. soldier has been executed since the Civil War, save Pvt. Eddie Slovik, who was shot by a firing squad to send a message to other U.S. troops during the last months of World War II.
Although desertions from the Army have gone up, the military has apparently taken little interest. There is no active program for finding those who simply walk away, and when deserters are caught (usually they turn themselves in), most face merely a less than honorable discharge. According to the AP, just 5 percent of Army deserters were court-martialed in 2006.
An Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures shows that 174 troops were court-martialed by the Army last year for desertion - a figure that amounts to just 5 percent of the 3,301 soldiers who deserted in fiscal year 2006. The figures are about 1 percent or less for the Navy and the Marines, according to data obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act.
Some deserters are simply allowed to return to their units, while the majority are discharged in non-criminal proceedings on less-than-honorable terms.
Pentagon officials say that while the all-volunteer military is stretched thin by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of deserters represents an extremely small percentage of the armed forces, and it would be a poor use of time to go after them, particularly when there is a war on.
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