Sunday, January 29, 2006

Army forces 50,000 soldiers into extended duty

A US soldier is silhouetted by the setting sun during a patrol in Iraq. Two reports warned that the US military has become perilously overstretched by the strain of repeated military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.(AFP/File/Stan Honda)

This is your military at work. This is your military on the verge of self-destruction. From Reuters News Service:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called "stop-loss," but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat.

The policy applies to soldiers in units due to deploy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Army said stop-loss is vital to maintain units that are cohesive and ready to fight. But some experts said it shows how badly the Army is stretched and could further complicate efforts to attract new recruits.

"As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank.

"When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you're edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism."

When soldiers enlist, they sign a contract to serve for a certain number of years, and know precisely when their service obligation ends so they can return to civilian life. But stop-loss allows the Army, mindful of having fully manned units, to keep soldiers on the verge of leaving the military.

Under the policy, soldiers who normally would leave when their commitments expire must remain in the Army, starting 90 days before their unit is scheduled to depart, through the end of their deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to their home base.

With yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, some soldiers can be forced to stay in the Army an extra 18 months.

While the stop-loss is continuing to keep the soldiers to serve in Iraq for an extra one, two or three tours, it is ultimately destroying the military in the long run. Sooner or later, these soldiers are going to have enough of this. Either at the end of their extended 18-month tours, you're going to see a mass defection of soldiers leaving the Army, or you're going to see a major uprising of soldiers inside the military against their commanding officers--perhaps a low-grade revolt against the military. Something's going to happen. The military can't seem to recruit enough soldiers to maintain an all-volunteer force--even with the extra incentives, bonuses, and extended age limits. Continuing on:

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said that "there is no plan to discontinue stop-loss."

"We understand that this is causing hardship for some individual soldiers, and we take individual situations into consideration," Hilferty said.

Hilferty said there are about 12,500 soldiers in the regular Army, as well as the part-time National Guard and Reserve, currently serving involuntarily under the policy, and that about 50,000 have had their service extended since the program began in 2002. An initial limited use of stop-loss was expanded in subsequent years to affect many more.

Almost 12,500 soldiers in the regular Army and National Guard, are serving involuntarily under the program. That number is going to increase in the next couple of years, as the military is still going to see shortfalls in their recruiting goals.

This "thin green line" is going to snap soon. Continuing on:

Hilferty noted the Army has given "exceptions" to 210 enlisted soldiers "due to personal hardship reasons" since October 2004, allowing them to leave as scheduled.

"The nation is at war and we are stop-lossing units deploying to a combat theater to ensure they mobilize, train, deploy, fight, redeploy and demobilize as a team," he said.


A few soldiers have gone to court to challenge stop-loss.

One such case fizzled last week, when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington dismissed a suit filed in 2004 by two Army National Guard soldiers. The suit claimed the Army fraudulently induced soldiers to enlist without specifying that their service might be involuntarily extended.

Courts also have backed the policy's legality in Oregon and California cases.

Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who represented the National Guard soldiers, said a successful challenge to stop-loss was still possible.

"I think the whole stop-loss program is a misrepresentation to people of how long they're going to actually serve. I think it's caused tremendous morale problems, tremendous psychological damage to people," Lobel said.

"When you sign up for the military, you're saying, 'I'll give you, say, six years and then after six years I get my life back.' And they're saying, 'No, really, we can extend you indefinitely.'"

Congressional critics have assailed stop-loss, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called it "a back-door draft." The United States abolished the draft in 1973, but the all-volunteer military never before has been tested by a protracted war.

The problem with the court challenges here is you have a dispute between how long you, as the individual recruit, can sign up to serve in the military, verses how long the military can keep you in the service. The military wants to keep your service contract indefinitely regarding this stop-loss orders. Individual soldiers are starting to refuse to having to serve multiple tours in Iraq, and having to face both the hardships within the war, and the hardships that their families face at home. As this "back-door draft" continues to escalate, you can bet there will be more court challenges as to the length of stay these recruit will have to endure in these stop-loss orders. And not only will court challenges continue to come up, but how long do you think before American veterans of the Iraqi war start to run for Congress?

That's already starting to happen.

1 comment:

nightshift66 said...

The court cases failed (and all will fail) because stop-loss is legal. I served 4 years in the Navy back in the 80's, and it was known among us then that it was possible. Some of my friends who were still in when Desert Storm rolled in feared having it happen to them, although (to my knowledge) it didn't.

That said, massive use of this device is absolutely going to cripple the Army within 2 years. For at least 20 years, military doctrine has been to see the Reserve and Guard as integral to military planning. The problem is, once it was implemented, the weekend warriors began realizing what a terrible deal they had, and recruiting for them is lower than the regular military. Once they are finally released, the enlisted men will leave and most will tell their friends about their experiences.

Now, combine that with the fact that the officer corps is also facing unusually high departures (see, and you can see we are staring at some real problems in the very near future. Conscription is a very real possibility before the next presidential election, but that is no panacea. It'd take 6-18 months just to get the first draftees in the field from the day it went into effect, resistance would be very high, and there is no way to know how well they would integrate with the volunteer forces.

What is even MORE scary is that the gang in charge believes it creates its own reality, so they will be the last ones to take sensible steps (like scaling back our world-wide commitments or seriously trying to up recruitment). These are going to be some tough times, especially if the D's fail to retake at least one half of Congress.