Unexcused Absences

  • Published
  • By Maj. Robin Peterson, Deputy Staff Judge Advocate
As a defense attorney in the Air National Guard, I am often asked by clients who no longer wish to participate in the guard what will happen to them if they decide to no longer attend drill weekends. 

Throughout my 19 years in the military, 10 of them as a JAG, I have been asked this question more times than I can recall. My clients' stories are all similar. They are in college and have a part time job and are too busy studying and working to attend drill. Or the client doesn't like his supervisor and just doesn't want to come to drill anymore. Then there are the clients who have met a special someone and no longer want to come to drill. 

My advice to these members is always the same: Unfortunately for them, it's time for a wake up call. My answer is wake up Dorothy. You are not in Kansas anymore. You are a member of the Armed Services. This may sound harsh but it is the truth. 

Attending UTA weekends is not optional. It is mandatory. All members receive a written order from the commander with the annual UTA schedule. All members are expected to participate in scheduled training periods and perform satisfactorily as members of their unit in order to fulfill their obligation or service agreement 

What is an unexcused absence? An unexcused absence is one four-hour period of the UTA/scheduled training period for which the member has not contacted their unit to receive an excused absence. According to ANGI 36-2001, paragraph, "unexcused absences should normally result when: 

  1. Member fails to report for the UTA without prior approval.
  2. Member is late for the UTA or leaves early without prior approval.
  3. Member fails to comply with all provisions of AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.

Unexcused absences may be made up for retirement points only, with the commander's approval. However, there is no pay entitlement to an individual making up an unexcused absence." 

A Commander has many options on how to deal with an unexcused absence. Commanders may choose to counsel the member or issue the member a letter of reprimand. Commanders may process an individual for demotion who has six or more unexcused absences in any 12-month period. Remember each 4 hour UTA period is one absence. So an individual may be processed for demotion after missing a drill weekend and a half. 

Furthermore, commanders may process an individual for discharge after they have nine or more unexcused absences in any 12 month period. Commanders may also choose to pursue nonjudicial punishment under Massachusetts Law. Commanders have another option which may surprise you. Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 33, Section 61 Commanders may request in writing that any police officer authorized to make arrests within the Commonwealth apprehend a member of the armed forces of the commonwealth who is absent without leave. The police in this scenario apprehend the member; take them into custody at which time member is taken into custody by the armed forces of the commonwealth. 

All of the Commanders' choices above may have a negative effect on the member's military and civilian career. If you are discharged from the Massachusetts Air National Guard (MA ANG) you may receive an Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (UOTHC) discharge. Many job applications ask if you have ever been discharged from the military and if so, did you receive an Honorable Discharge. And your answer would be no if you received an UOTHC discharge for being an unsatisfactory participant. This is not something I would want to explain during a job interview. Furthermore, if you decide that you would like to rejoin the military five years down the road you may not be able to as chances are your discharge is coded as "unsatisfactory participant." Moreover receiving an UOTHC discharge may result in losing other entitlements and benefits, including VA benefits. 

Members of the MA ANG have signed an enlistment contract and are required to fulfill their service obligation. If you are having difficulties with your supervisor or difficulties that may keep you from attending drill, use your chain of command. You should always try to resolve issues at the lowest level possible. First talk to your supervisor. They may be more understanding than you think. If that doesn't work, talk to your first shirt for direction on how to proceed. 

Additionally, if you feel that your career is not progressing or that you are not being challenged enough remember that there are many career opportunities in the Air National Guard. Visit your base retention office for more information. Unit members are a commanders' most important asset. Commanders want to see you succeed. Attendance and participation by all members of the unit is imperative to the accomplishment of the mission. 

The best advice I can give you is to have the courage, heart and wisdom to follow the yellow brick road and attend drill. There is a treasure at the end - a promising ANG career!