9th Circuit Won’t Stop Guardsman’s Deployment
The 9th Circuit has refused to halt Oregan Guardsman Emiliano Santiago’s deployment to Afghanistan, despite his service obligation having ended.
For the second time in two days, a federal appeals court declined to halt an Oregon National Guardsman from being deployed to Afghanistan on Friday. Emiliano Santiago, 27, an electronics technician and a helicopter refueler now living in Pasco, Wash., is fighting his deployment because his 8-year service agreement expired last year. His lawyers told the court Santiago is the victim of a “backdoor draft.” On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Seattle, declined to halt his looming departure. On Thursday, the court declined to rehear the case with 11 judges.
No U.S. federal appeals court has sided with similarly situated military personnel fighting their deployments. The courts have generally upheld the so-called “stop loss” law that authorizes President Bush to suspend service agreements of many armed forces personnel for national security reasons. Thousands of soldiers have been redeployed under stop loss orders.
In court briefs, the government told the appeals court Thursday that “soldiers are essential to the national security, and their service in the face of hardship is a crucial source of the strength of our nation.”
Santiago’s attorneys said he would likely appeal to the Supreme Court.
The San Francisco Chronicle has more:
Santiago, now of Pasco, Wash., joined the National Guard at 18, as a junior in high school and served in a unit that refuels helicopters. Less than three weeks before his enlistment was to expire last June, he was told that it was being prolonged by stop-loss. After the one-year deployment order to Afghanistan was issued in October, Santiago was told that his enlistment had been extended for 27 years, to 2031.
His suit claimed that the order violated his enlistment contract, which provided for an extension in the event of a war or national emergency declared by Congress and did not mention presidential orders. But government lawyers argued, and a federal judge ruled, that the contract did not limit the Army’s authority to extend enlistments under Bush’s national emergency declaration.
Goldberg, part of a National Lawyers Guild team challenging stop-loss orders, said the government’s position helped to explain current shortages in military enlistments. “Why would someone sign up,” he asked, “when they’re told that a specific (contract) term may mean nothing?”
Indeed. The Oregonian dubs this “A Catch-22 for Army recruiting.”
This ruling was correct. Under the terms of enlistment, the Army can extend soldiers’ tours of duty under certain emergency circumstances. If federal judges forced the Army to bend the rules and ignore the “stop-loss” policy for Santiago, a few thousand other weary or reluctant soldiers might ask the courts for similar treatment.
Still, the Pentagon isn’t making many friends with its stop-loss policy. More than 12,300 full- and part-time Army soldiers have been held beyond their service commitments, as Francis reported. One was Spc. Eric McKinley, a 24-year-old bakery worker and Guardsman from Corvallis. He was killed by a bomb in Baghdad last June, two months after his service was supposed to end.
Today, the Army National Guard is stuck in a Catch-22. It can’t recruit and retain enough people to take the place of citizen-soldiers such as Santiago. But the Army can’t let go of Santiago until someone volunteers to take his place.
As I noted in my TCS piece, “Backdoor Draft?,” I disagree with those, like Sen. John McCain, who argue that making soldiers slated to go into the Individual Ready Reserve serve on active duty during times of war is a “backdoor draft.” All soldiers sign up for eight years; the ability to go into reserve status after one’s initial active duty obligation is contingent on the needs of the service. Santiago’s case is different, though. He’s done his eight years. I could even understand requiring him to finish out his overseas rotation if the tour began during his obligation period. But he was stateside serving in the National Guard.
Prior to Vietnam, it was understood that those in the military during wartime were in “for the duration.” Folks that went in after Pearl Harbor were usually on the hook through VJ Day and beyond. In an all-volunteer force, though, this concept is problematic. Once a soldier’s eight year obligation is up, it is very difficult to argue that he should be forced to remain even longer when those who never volunteered in the first place have no commitment at all.