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Article 134 - Straggling

Any service member who straggles (lags behind) when accompanying his organization on a maneuver, march or any other similar exercise can be charged with a violation of Article 134 of the UMCJ.

Straggling is not explicitly mentioned in the text of Article 134. The offense is, however, mentioned in paragraph 107, under Article 134. The text of statute in Article 134 contains an indirect reference to such offenses. It says that all neglects and disorders in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature that can bring discredit to the armed forces, all offenses and crimes not capital, can be punished by a court martial.

Elements of the offense

  • The accused straggled, when he was participating in a maneuver, march or a similar exercise with his organization.
  • It was wrongful on the part of the accused to straggle.
  • In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was against the discipline and good order in the armed forces or the nature of the act brought discredit to the armed forces.

Maximum punishment for the offense

If an accused is found guilty of straggling, he shall be punished with 3 months of confinement and forfeiture of 2/3 rd of monthly pay, for three months.

Explanation for the elements

Straggling is defined as wandering away, straying, becoming separated from, lagging or lingering behind. Suppose a service member is doing a physical training run along with the other members of his unit. The unit has been ordered to cover 4 miles. But the service member starts straggling (or sandbagging) on the 3 rd mile. It can earn the service member remedial physical training, a reprimand or similar punishment.

There may be a genuine reason why the service member is lagging behind (he may not be keeping well). If that case, the NCO or officer commanding the organization may emphasize with the service member and he may be allowed to rest till he his health recovers.

But if the service member straggles repeatedly, despite keeping good health, it indicates that he is not pushing himself. For this, he can be charged with a violation of Article 134 (paragraph 107) of the UCMJ.

Sandbagging is defined as hiding one's strength or performing below one's capacity on purpose. A service member may sandbag his performance to lower the expectations from him. For example, his intention may do to avoid difficult tasks. It is similar to the concept of soldering in early industry, where a worker would attempt to keep his production as low as possible. Back then, pay was based on the number of hours the worker worked and not the number of units he produced.

Straggling or sandbagging is usually a disciplinary issue. The NCO or officer-in-charge may think that the service member is not showing enough motivation or is not putting his heart into the activity. If it is allowed to continue, other service members may be motivated to follow the soldier's behavior and soon the NCO or officer-in-charge will have a real problem on his hands.

In a combat zone, such a service member can quickly become a liability because of this inability or refusal to follow orders. In the unforgiving environment of a battlefield, the accused's indiscipline and lack of motivation will not only put his life in danger but that of his comrades as well, making it a question of life and death.

The UMCJ is resorted to only as a last resort (for straggling). Usually, a soldier will be punished with an administrative action, like a general reprimand or a discharge. The charge (Article 134) is applied only if the soldier continues the action, even after he has received repeated warnings from his superior officer or drill master.

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