A surge in Navy deserters could be a sign of a bigger problem for the military


In 2021, 157 sailors illegally fled the U.S. Navy, more than double the number who deserted in 2019. Although all but eight of them eventually returned to their units, a military legal expert says the dramatic increase in desertions may be a sign of a bigger issue.

The Navy has seen an increase in desertions over the previous three years. In 2019, 63 sailorsfled fromtheir duty stations, and another 98 did so in 2020, a Navy spokesperson, Lt. Cmdr. Devin Arneson, told NPR. The number of deserters still at large had been on the decline between 2017 and 2019.

But other branches of the military didn’t see a similar increase in the past three years.Desertions in the Army dropped by 47%, from 328 in 2019 to 174 in 2021, and the Marine Corps reported 59 in 2019 and 31 in 2021. The Coast Guard said it didn’t record a single deserter between 2019 and 2021.

The increase in Navy desertions was first reported by NBC News.

Arneson said she cannot speculate about the increase in Navy desertions or why a sailor would choose desertion — an unauthorized absence in which a military member has no intention of returning. It’s a grave offense that can result in a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay, a loss of benefits and jail time.


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