Reserve Captain Fulfills Contract, Can’t Resign

The Army Reserve is refusing to allow a captain to resign, even though he has fulfilled his service obligation, Shelley Murphy reports in today’s Boston Globe.

Jonathan O’Reilly wasn’t planning on a career in the military when, at age 18, he enlisted in the Army Reserve for eight years in exchange for an ROTC scholarship that paid most of his tuition at the University of Notre Dame. But O’Reilly, who turns 32 this month, said top commanders have refused to let him leave the Reserve, even though he finished his service obligation in May 2004 and has repeatedly tried to resign.


After eight years in the Reserve, including a weekend of service each month and about two additional weeks of training each year, O’Reilly said he submitted his first resignation letter in June 2004. It was rejected, according to the lawsuit, as were four subsequent resignation requests in 2004 and 2005.

O’Reilly said he was told initially that he didn’t have a compelling enough reason for wanting to leave. Later he was told he couldn’t resign because the Army was short on personnel with his skills as a captain and supply officer. One officer, according to O’Reilly, even suggested that the Reserve could extend his enlistment date to 2024, when O’Reilly will turn 50.

Steve Strumvall, a spokesman for the Army Reserve, said that he couldn’t comment on O’Reilly’s case, but that commissioned officers, including captains, are not automatically allowed to resign, even if they have met their eight-year service obligation.
The US Army Reserve, according to Strumvall, considers three factors when weighing a resignation request: personal hardship, previous deployments, and whether there’s a shortage of people with the same specialty.


Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Steve Ruscito, is commander of O’Reilly’s unit: the Second Battalion, 385th Regiment, First Brigade, 98th division. Ruscito said O’Reilly has served diligently and has supported his resignation. But, Ruscito said, commissioned officers serve at the pleasure of the president, and the rules for serving change in wartime. ”When we are at war, certain parts of our contract might be activated that would not be in place during peacetime,” Ruscito said.

Thousands of soldiers and reservists have been forced to remain in the service after fulfilling their enlistment obligations, under what are known as ”stop loss” orders. The orders allow the military to suspend the discharge of reservists who have been deployed or whose units have been alerted that they are about to be deployed. But O’Reilly’s lawyer said his client’s unit isn’t under a stop-loss order, and he hasn’t been activated for duty.

A number of lawsuits have been filed around the country by Army Reserve officers who have challenged the Army’s refusal to let them resign after their time of duty was up. At least four dropped their suits after they were granted honorable discharges.

O’Reilly, who is single and a certified public accountant, said he was reluctant to file the suit and has enjoyed his years with the Army Reserve. But his life has changed, he said, and it’s putting a strain on the small company where he works, the O’Connor Group, when he has to leave for Reserve training every year.

As I’ve noted before, there’s little question that it’s unfair to force those who volunteer for the military to stay on beyond their obligation while requiring nothing of other able bodied men. That the Army has a legal right to do this is hardly something an 18-year-old would be expected to comprehend.

Related links in the extended entry.




Military Personnel, General



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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. G A PHILLIPS says:

    I feel for him, but we are at war, then again their must be something that can be done from case to case, this is 2006 is it not. Should we not figure out something for the most noble among us.

  2. Jonk says:

    Sign on the dotted line and you belong to them until they tell you otherwise. This has not changed in thousands of years…look at the Roman Army during the Civil Wars…enlistments extended until the Pax was restored. This is nothing new…deal with it.

  3. McGehee says:

    It would be nice, I suppose, if the Pentagon would point out to its officers and enlisted that, yes, we are at war, and traditionally if you’re in during a war you’re in for the duration.

    It was a Vietnam-era innovation that allowed people to get out even while hostilities were ongoing.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Yes. But that tradition was in the context of a conscript military. That is, it was presumed that able bodied men had a duty to serve during wartime. I would argue that 1) we’re not at war in the traditional sense (Iraq is a stability op, not a traditional war) and that 2) one can’t have an infinite duty to serve if most have none.

  5. Just Me says:

    I can understand for continuity of the unit using a stop loss for units entering or who are currently in a war zone (Iraq/Afghanistan), but if somebody has served their time, and expressed the desire to get out, they should be able to do so.

    If for no other reason than the bad PR a “soldier sues Army in order to get out” type stories. The Army would do much better to let them go, and work harder on recruitment and retention.

  6. djneylon says:

    The important point is that officers serve at the discretion of the President. From the money side of it, this man got a free ride through Notre Dame (not exactly a low cost school), and in return, has spent a weekend a month and two weeks a year (with pay) “serving.” (Remember, George Bush’s reserve service was reagarded as meaningless in comparison to Kerry’s war service). He has never been called to active duty. I’m sorry here, but I fail to see where the issue is here — except he wants to back out of his commitment at his convenience. Maybe he thinks the military is like marriage — you can quit whenver you want.

  7. Richard Gardner says:

    Interesting story, but it isn’t making sense for those that are familiar with the military and defense appropriations.

    First off, this guy is a logistician, or supply officer. An essential function, but not a front line troup. There is not a huge shortage of logisticians, compared to MPs and Intel folks.

    Perhaps the Army is different from the Navy and Air Force (I doubt it) but you do not get a full ride scholarship in them without going into the active duty military for at least a couple of years, though this article says the Army lets this happen. I could be wrong here – I only know the Navy and Air Force.

    I DO understand the difference between Army Reserve and Army National Guard – the article says Army Reserve. This action is what I would expect out of locally controlled Guard, not federally controlled Reserve.

    This stinks of poor reporting. Or local stupidity.

  8. Andy says:

    Does “for the duration” mean the duration of hostilities in Iraq, or the duration of the war on terror? What if three years from now we’re invading Iran or Syria… does the obligation transfer?

    Going into college I flirted with the idea of ROTC or some Reserves commitment as a way of paying for school. One point in favor was that if it wasn’t working out for me I would be out in four years. If I’d had any idea that my obligation could stretch to, theoretically, decades… I would have hung up the phone a lot sooner.

    It’s important for the Army to set its policies in a way that reflects the public mood. Stop-loss is right now something of a dirty little secret. I think that if more high schoolers become aware of their indefinite commitments we’ll see the final nail in the recruitment quota coffin.

  9. JimT says:

    As an ROTC scholarship awardee, Active Duty Army Officer, and Inactive Ready Reservist recalled to Active Duty and sent to Iraq AFTER my service obligation was complete, I can tell you
    1. The only “Free Ride” is USMA. ROTC scholarships only pay a percentage of your tuition. If your school is inexpensive, it might just about cover it…but most don’t. Generally, the higher the percentage they pay, the longer your active commitment. If this guy went straight into the reserves…they didn’t pay much.
    2. I agree with James that it is BS to require more of people who have already “pitched in” while the majority of able bodied citizens get by with a “Support the Troops” bumpersticker.

  10. JayB says:

    I live in Boston and saw some local coverage – some arguments made:

    How did all of these IRR soldiers who stay at home get out (see Army Times article used in interview)?

    He is in the Army Reserve and NOT under a stop loss. They were very specific about that in the interviews that I saw. The Army Reserve spokeman said that he didn’t meet the “criteria” for having his resignation accepted. How can the Army Reserve criteria be different than a stop loss? Are not Active Duty and IRR officers of his rank and specialty being released?

    Regardless of how much the tuition costs, is a deal not a deal? He serves 125% of his contract and they told him they can retain him until he is 50. What would happen if he stopped going to drill or flunked his PT or H/W?

    Who is responsible for the shortage? This guys has to pay for someone else’s mismanagement.

    Maybe I am taking it light on the guy because he is local and I saw more coverage……

  11. JayB says: