What Does AWOL Mean in the Military? Things You Must Know!

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

what does awol mean in the military

The military uses secret codes, abbreviations, and acronyms to shorten commands and communicate messages quicker.

One of the most commonly used acronyms in the military is AWOL. So, What does AWOL mean in the military?

The acronym AWOL refers to cases where military personnel leave or are absent from their line of duty without proper permission. Unauthorized absence can result in jail time and other punishments.

Keep reading to find everything you need about AWOL in the military.

Definition of AWOL


The acronym AWOL stands for Absence Without Leave. The Marine Corps and the Navy call it UA or Unauthorized Absence. It refers to a situation where a service member is not where they are supposed to be and has yet to receive permission to be absent.

AWOL is considered a violation of military discipline. Military members who are not present at their assigned duty station or leave the army without permission will suffer various consequences, ranging from administrative actions to more serious disciplinary measures.

Consequences of Going AWOL

According to AWOL regulations under Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), AWOL punishments are due depending on the situation.

The severity of the penalty is decided by the length and causes of the absence.

1. When A Military Member is Considered AWOL


Service members of the military may be AWOL should they commit the following actions:

  1. Failure to Report: Fail to report to a duty station or assigned location at the designated time without proper authorization or a valid reason.
  2. Unauthorized Absence: Leave a duty station or assigned location without obtaining permission.
  3. Overstaying Leave: Fail to return to the duty station or assigned location when the leave period is over.
  4. Missing Movement: Fail to join an assigned unit or ship before it departs for a designated mission, deployment, or operation.
  5. Failing to Attend Appointed Duties: Does not attend required formations, training sessions, meetings, or other duties without proper authorization.
  6. Unauthorized Vacation: Take a vacation or leave the duty station without obtaining the necessary approval or following established procedures.
  7. Ignoring Recall Orders: Does not comply with recalling orders to return to the duty station or assignment.

2. Penalties and Punishments for AWOL


Here are the possible punishments for military members who are found guilty of committing AWOL:

  1. Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) or Article 15: Non-judicial punishment, also known as Article 15 in the U.S. military, involves extra duties, loss of pay, restrictions, and other corrective actions. Article 15 proceedings are handled at the unit level.
  2. Forfeiture of Pay: Military members found guilty of AWOL may have their pay temporarily suspended or forfeited as a disciplinary measure.
  3. Reduction in Rank: Depending on the severity of the offense, a military member may be demoted to a lower rank.
  4. Restriction: Restricted privileges and movements may be imposed as a punishment for AWOL.
  5. Correctional Custody: Military members may be placed in correctional custody for a short period as a disciplinary measure.
  6. Administrative Separation: If the AWOL offense is severe or repeated, the military may initiate administrative separation proceedings to discharge the individual from service. This could be characterized as “Other Than Honorable” or a similar discharge status, which can have significant negative implications for veterans’ benefits.
  7. Court-Martial: In more serious cases of AWOL, significantly if the absence was prolonged or detrimental to unit readiness or mission execution, a military member could face a court-martial. A court-martial is a formal military legal proceeding that can result in more severe penalties, including confinement, a dishonorable discharge, or a bad conduct discharge.

Desertion vs. AWOL


Desertion is a much more serious violation than AWOL. It involves a deliberate and willful intent to leave one’s duties or responsibilities in the military permanently.

Also, when military personnel intently join another country’s armed forces while still serving in the United States are also called deserters. Additionally, punishments for deserting are much more severe than for going AWOL.

Here are some critical differences between desertion and AWOL:

  1. Intent: This is the primary distinction. Desertion involves a deliberate intent to abandon military services permanently, while AWOL may involve an unauthorized absence without the intent to leave permanently.
  2. Duration of Absence: Desertion often implies a more prolonged absence with a clear intent to abandon duty permanently, while AWOL might involve shorter unauthorized absences.
  3. Severity of Consequences: Desertion can result in more severe penalties, including dishonorable discharge, imprisonment, and a criminal record.
  4. Legal Proceedings: Desertion often leads to court-martial proceedings. AWOL cases may also result in non-judicial punishment or administrative actions, but they may not necessarily involve court-martial.


So, by now, you have understood what does awol mean in the military and its consequences. As you have read, it goes against the military law.

Military members must understand AWOL meaning in the military and its impact on their military career.

Military members must honor their laws, principles, responsibilities, and commitment to their duties. So, being charged with AWOL is a breach of the line of command. It also interrupts military operations and missions, and it will result in legal and disciplinary penalties for those who are found guilty.

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