What AWOL Means and the Legal Ramifications

As a member of the military, you have agreed to follow orders and carry on the duties that have been given to you without delay or objection. When you are a current member of the military, you are expected to be present when requested and required. If you fail to report or otherwise are not present where you should be, it is considered an absence without leave or what is referring to as being AWOL. This is a serious situation where you may need to consult with a military attorney.

AWOL Details

You can be considered AWOL for up to 30 days, after which time you are considered to have deserted. You will be given the status of AWOL if you fail to report, leave without permission or miss a flight or ship you were supposed to be on. The military has a very specific outline of the situations which would make a person be considered AWOL.

One possible situation is when you know you are supposed to appoint to duty at a specific time and place and are aware of how to get where you have to go, but you do not show up on time at the correct place. Another situation would be leaving duty early or leaving the appointed area where you are supposed to be. In addition, not showing up for training exercises or required watch duty is also considered going AWOL. In all situations, you have to have knowingly and without permission failed to meet your required duty.


If you go AWOL, you will be found and punished by the military. Typically, your commanding officer will handle punishment for this type of situation. There are no set penalties, so it is often to your officer’s discretion what punishment to hand down. However, there are maximum penalties in place, so the officer does have to stay within these. Most punishments will involve confinement and pay forfeiture. However, loss of rank, discharge or other non-judicial punishments could be imposed.

How long you were gone and how you returned, voluntary or not, will typically influence your punishment. In addition, your previous behavior record will also usually be considered. Another influence is if your commanding officer decides to take the case to trial. At that point, you are probably going to need a military attorney.

Returning After Being AWOL

Obviously, the best way to return after going AWOL is to voluntarily return to your base and inform your commanding officer you have returned. You could do this with the help of a military law attorney. However, if you do not decide to voluntarily return, be aware that the military will put your information into a database that is accessible by law enforcement. If you have contact with law enforcement, such as being pulled over for speeding, they will place you under arrest and you will be kept in jail until the military comes to collect you.

Going AWOL is something best avoided. You have made a commitment to the military and should stand by it. However, sometimes things happen. If you find yourself in a situation where you are AWOL, you should probably contact a military attorney to get help returning to your base.