Boring Stuff: How the military services account for people
To understand what we encountered with our deserter analysis project, you first need to understand how the military services account for people. Because I am a retired Army guy, my terminology will be that of the Army. The other services operate the same way, but some use different terms. Every military member must be accounted for by being either present for duty; sick and not on duty; temporarily separated from his/her unit for training or some other special requirement; enroute to another unit; on leave or pass; missing in action; prisoner of war; prisoner of the US military; incarcerated in a civilian prison; or absent without leave (AWOL; the Marines call it "UA,' unauthorized absence).
When an individual leaves one unit with orders to report to another unit, there must be a date when accountability shifts from the losing unit to the gaining unit. Consider this common occurrence. An individual is stationed in the States and receives orders reassigning him to Europe. Enroute to Europe, he will take some leave, go to a school in the States for a few weeks, take more leave, then report to his new unit. On whose personnel strength report does this individual appear for the period that he is on leave or in school? What happens if he does not report to the school or to the new unit?
Reassignment orders, for both temporary and permanent reassignment, have a reporting date, the date on which you must be standing tall, duffel bag in hand, shoes shined, hair cut, brass polished, in front of your new first sergeant. If an individual does not report on his reporting date, he is carried on the rolls of the gaining unit as AWOL. After thirty days, he is DFR -- Dropped From the Rolls -- and reported as a deserter. DFR is a manpower accounting practice that does two things. First, it allows the gaining unit, which is now short one person, to request a replacement from personnel channels and, second, it allows legal action to be started against the now deserter.
What We Found
When our analysts completed work with the services, we had a list of -- and this is from my memory -- close to 4,000 individuals who had deserted from units in Vietnam. We were shocked at this number because the official list of missing men carried -- again, this is my memory at work -- either 42 or 44 in the status of deserter. Upon further examination, we found that what we were looking at was a function of the way the military services account for their people.
As we tracked individual cases, we found that practically everyone of the 4,000 or so were men who were in the States (a few were in other assignments such as Germany, Japan, etc.). They received orders to go to Vietnam, complete with a unit of assignment in Vietnam and a reporting date. They never showed up in Vietnam. But, because they were on orders to units in Vietnam, they were picked up on those rolls, carried as AWOL, then, after thirty days, DFR and reported. Because they were reported as DFR by a unit in Vietnam, they showed up as being a deserter from Vietnam.
Our analysts, working with the services, scrubbed and scrubbed and the result was that, after we culled all the cases not in Vietnam, we were down to 40-something individuals who appeared, based on the information available, to have gone over the hill while still in Vietnam.....snip~