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Ask the Lawyer: Missing a military movement can land you in hot water

Oct. 13, 2011 - 02:14PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 13, 2011 - 02:14PM  |  
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Q. Can I get in trouble if I miss a movement by accident?

A. According to Article 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a service member who misses a movement is defined as someone "who through neglect or design misses the movement of a ship, aircraft, or unit with which he is required in the course of duty to move."

The most common scenarios of missing a movement are when a service member's unit deploys to a foreign country, when a ship leaves port to go out to sea for an extended period, and when a unit transfers to a new home location.

Missing a unit march or unit run would not count as "missing a movement."

To miss a movement, the service member must have known about it. If the member never received notification of the movement, he cannot be guilty of missing it. Also, the member must have acted on purpose or been negligent — meaning he did not take appropriate measures to ensure he was present at the time of the movement.

Consider the example of a service member who is scheduled to leave on a military-chartered plane on a Saturday morning to deploy to Afghanistan. If, on Friday morning, that service member decides to fly across the country to visit his girlfriend and then cannot make it back to the scheduled movement on time, the service member probably acted with neglect.

On the other hand, it is quite common for service members to take pre-deployment leave before a movement. Say the same service member left two weeks before the scheduled movement and was due back five days beforehand. However, an unexpected blizzard hit the town in which the service member took leave and all flights were canceled for the week. In that case, the member missed a movement because of factors beyond his control. That most likely would not be considered a violation of Article 87.

In the case of an accident, a service member should contact his chain of command as soon as it becomes apparent that he may miss a movement. The chain of command will give guidance and potentially arrange for the member to take alternate transportation to catch up with the unit.

Service members charged with missing a movement should immediately contact a military law attorney. Depending on the circumstances, an attorney could defend the service member by showing how he was not properly informed about a movement, or how he did not act intentionally or negligently.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq War veteran and founding partner of the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC (http://www.fedattorney.com/">www.fedattorney.com). Email questions to askthelawyer@militarytimes.com">askthelawyer@militarytimes.com. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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