FRONTLINE soldiers and Navy crew are among 5200 service staff punished, fined and jailed for deserting since Australia joined the Iraq War.
Up to 10 defence force personnel have been reported AWOL (absent without leave) every week since 2003, according to ADF figures.
A record 782 went missing during Australia's deployment in Iraq in 2003 while 780 had abandoned the force in the lead-up to the war, following the 9/11 attacks.
Almost 20 personnel had been jailed since 2004, 32 had their rank reduced and more than 1900 faced thousands of dollars in fines and were given extra duties.
The ADF would not reveal how many people had been arrested by military police after being reported AWOL.
Private Alex Curtis, who served at Victoria's Puckapunyal army base, was arrested at an airport last year trying to flee the country.
Mr Curtis, 25, said he was assaulted by a higher-ranking soldier and went AWOL after pleas for help were ignored by the army hierarchy.
He was forced to serve 24 days in detention before being allowed to leave the force.
A Queensland family raised the alarm when it was revealed an infantryman from Brisbane, who served in Timor, was thrown into military lockup for not getting the appropriate leave to attend his own wedding last year.
Convicted AWOL personnel face up to 12 months in jail. More than 5370 punishments have been handed out since 2004.
Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James defended the ADF's treatment of AWOL soldiers.
"Thousands of people leave jobs but, in the case of the ADF, personnel have a contractual agreement with the country," he said.
by Alex White