Casualties of Conscience
In training, though, he had serious qualms. From inside, the Army struck John as brutal, controlling, "like a slavery contract." Iraq, his first war zone, did nothing to quiet his doubts. The communications specialist was sent to a base near Baghdad to repair a phone and Internet hookup that allowed communication between US facilities. John found himself holding a faulty fiberoptic cable labeled "Abu Ghraib." "I really felt like part of something bad at that point," he says. "I didn't directly have blood on my hands, but I was part of it."
Officially, punishment for military desertion can range from an "other than honorable" discharge -- a bureaucratic slap on the wrist that may involve a cut in benefits -- to death by firing squad. In practice, many soldiers who go AWOL overseas follow the advice of the Army's deserter hotline and quietly turn themselves in to Ft. Sill or Ft. Knox. Ft. Knox spokeswoman Gini Sinclair says most of the 14,000-plus troops who have been processed through the two centers since the invasion of Afghanistan were discharged within two weeks.