How to Deal with AWOL Soldiers in the Army National Guard

My goal today is to educate you on how to deal with AWOL Soldiers in the Army National Guard.  While most Soldiers strive to do the right thing, you will at one point or another have to deal with some problem Soldiers.  And one of these problems is Soldiers not showing up for scheduled training: AWOL Soldiers.

To be an effective small unit leader, you need to get a grip on this fast.  Here are some of my best tips to deal with AWOL and Soldiers and to minimize the number of AWOL Soldiers you have on your books.  Let’s get started.

Tip # 1 Make Sure All of Your Soldiers Have a Copy of the Drill Schedule

This sounds simple, and it is.  Make sure everyone you personally supervise, and everyone under your authority, has a copy of the drill schedule.  Have a sign-in roster where everyone has to sign their name saying they received a copy of the drill schedule.  This eliminates the most basic excuses.

Tip # 2 Call Your Soldiers Before Drill Weekend

Have all of your subordinates contact their direct reports 3-7 days before drill to remind them of the training, to inform them of the mission and game plan for the weekend, and answer any questions the Soldiers might have.  This sounds like babysitting, but it’s really the process of COMMUNICATING!

Tip # 3 If Someone Is AWOL, Contact Them Immediately

Always give your Soldiers the benefit of the doubt.  If someone does not show up for drill, don’t assume they are doing that intentionally. Give them a call to see if you can contact them.  Ask your other Soldiers if they know where the Soldier might be.  Call the Soldier’s cell phone, reach out to them on Facebook or call their spouse/next of kin to see if you can find out where they are.

Tip # 4 If You Can’t Get In Touch With the Soldier, Send Out an AWOL Recovery Team

If you can’t get in touch with the Soldier, send out an AWOL Recovery Team.  Send out one NCO and one Soldier to the Soldier’s address on the Alert Roster.  Knock on their door.  Ask a neighbor if they have seen the person.  If the Soldier is home, find out what is going on.  If possible, get them to come back to the armory WITH YOU.  If that’s not possible, tell them to report to the armory immediately.

Tip # 5 When You Do Get In Contact with the Soldier, Do a Formal Counseling Immediately

When the Soldier arrives at the armory, ask them what is going on.  LISTEN to their response.  Once that is done, conduct a formal counseling with them telling them you do not condone their behavior.  Summarize what happened on a DA Form 4856 and tell them what will happen next.

Tip # 6 Recommend/Issue Your Punishment

At this point in the counseling, you will reveal your punishment.  If you want formal punishment, you can recommend it to the commander.  Personally, I would recommend a demotion for a first time AWOL.  I would recommend a Bar to Reenlistment the second time around and a discharge or Bonus RECOOP the third time around.  If a Soldier does not show up the entire drill weekend, make sure your AGR Staff sends out Certified Mail to the Soldier.

Tip # 7 Provide Tough, Fun and Challenging Training

Another simple and effective thing you can do is to provide tough, fun and challenging training at all times.  Let’s face it, some units have boring training.  No one joined the military to sit around the armory all drill weekend.  Whenever possible, schedule training offsite and do fun and exciting things.  Make your Soldiers WANT to come to drill weekend, not dread it.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are seven helpful tips to deal with AWOL Soldiers in your unit.  Hopefully, you won’t have this problem in your unit, but if you do, you now know what you need to do to resolve the issue.

Do you have anything you want to add to this post? Do you have any questions about dealing with AWOL soldiers? Please post your comments and questions below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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10 thoughts on “How to Deal with AWOL Soldiers in the Army National Guard”

  1. Amy Skalicky

    I am glad to see the balance in responses to your post, Chuck. I am the first one to hold someone, including myself, acountable for commitments, but there are mitigating circumstances sometimes, and seeking information first is always best. True, you will have to deal with irresponsibility, and the “tough but fair” approach is a great one. Having everything documented is also well-advised.

  2. I think the biggest thing is doing the counseling and enforcing the standards. Demote them, recoop their bonus, take away their pay and keep them from re-enlisting. Until you hold these bad soldiers accountable, you will keep getting more of the same.

  3. Exactly! Make sure training is not boring. Make you had always wished your training had been in the early days. Treat AWOL soldiers in the Army National Guard the way you would think right to be treated, in fairness and according to the rules. Making that phone call or reaching out via Internet research and communication is an excellent step. Sending an NCO and a soldier to the address on file for the AWOL one makes sense. Is there anything wrong with sending these two to a place where people say the AWOL person might be such as at a bar, the beach hangout, or ball park? Is that going too far?

    1. I apoligize for my typo. I meant: make sure it is like you had always wished your training had been in the early days.

    2. The best way to deal with AWOL Soldiers is to hold them accountable. Counsel them, recoop their bonus, reduce them in rank, submit a Bar to Reenlistment and let them know that their behavior will not be tolerated. The Army is not Jerry’s Kids and you do not need to hold their hand and baby them. Be the leader who does the right thing and enforces the standards.

  4. Neil O'Donnell

    I think sending out reminders is a good way to limit the amount of AWOL soldiers. Whether through email or a phone call, you could remind them and possibly determine ahead of time if a soldier is facing a personal struggle that may cause him/her to go AWOL (at least with the phone call). I would definitely agree that counseling would be a good thing to do immediately to determine if an AWOL soldier is confronting something overwhelming (i.e. a death in the family) as opposed to a soldier who went AWOL simply because he/she was intoxicated and overslept.

    1. Sending out reminders via the company newsletter and giving them a copy of the training schedule and calendar is a starting point. Additionally, first line leaders should call Soldiers before drill. That being said, all Soldiers are adults and know what the right thing to do is. As a leader, I don’t buy excuses about why Soldiers tell me they were AWOL. Instead, I held them accountable by re-cooping bonuses, taking away benefits, reducing the Soldier in rank, etc. If a Soldier is AWOL, and you don’t hold them accountable, you are just as guilty as they are.

  5. Perhaps the most important tip on here is that if the AWOL soldier is found then to immediately perform some formal counseling. That may go against some of the older methodology, but I think it’s so important these days.

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