Soldiers Sue over Extended Enlistments
An Army specialist, saying it was Ã¢€œa question of fairness,Ã¢€ filed a lawsuit Monday with seven other soldiers challenging a policy forcing them to serve in Iraq beyond their terms of enlistment. Ã¢€œI served five months past my one-year obligation and I feel that itÃ¢€™s time to let me go back to my wife,Ã¢€ David Qualls told a news conference. Qualls and seven other reserve members filed a suit in federal court seeking a judgeÃ¢€™s order to require the Army to immediately release them from service. Other soldiers have filed similar suits over the past year, but this was believed to be the first by active duty service members.
Under the PentagonÃ¢€™s Ã¢€œstop-lossÃ¢€ program, the Army can extend enlistments during war or national emergencies as a way to promote continuity and cohesiveness. The policy, invoked in June, could keep tens of thousands of personnel in the military beyond their expected departure. The policy was also used during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War.
Qualls signed up in July 2003 for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard but has been told he will remain on active duty in Iraq until next year. The lawsuit contends the policy is a breach of the service contract because it extends the length of service without a soldierÃ¢€™s consent. It also alleges the contracts were misleading because they make no reference to the policy, said Staughton Lynd, an attorney for the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said he could not respond to the lawsuit because the Pentagon had not yet reviewed the filing, but he defended the policy as necessary to maintain cohesive units in the war on terror. Ã¢€œThe alternative is people start leaving that unit in the middle of a tour,Ã¢€ he said.
Qualls, the only plaintiff who is publicly identified, is home on leave. The other seven, listed as John Does to protect their privacy, are now serving in Iraq or are in Kuwait en route to Iraq, Lynd said. Qualls and two other plaintiffs enlisted under one-year Ã¢€œTry OneÃ¢€ contracts that have expired. Four others are serving under multiyear contracts that also have run out. The remaining soldierÃ¢€™s contract doesnÃ¢€™t expire until spring, but he has been told to expect to serve in Iraq beyond the expiration date.
While I sympathize with Qualls and his compatriots, their suit has no merit. Their military obligation is eight years, regardless of the term of their enlistment. It would be nice, however, if the recruiting made that clearer, but that’s a subject for another day. The “Try One” contract is only for active duty people moving into the reserves or for prior service personnel, though, so Qualls should have known that.
Further, while it may be unfair that these people have to serve longer than they had planned while those who never enlisted in the first place have no obligation, it is sound military policy. Indeed, until Vietnam, it was standard practice to have soldiers serve “for the duration.” There were many people in World War Two who served from the earliest days all the way through V-J Day and beyond.
There’s a war on. The military–including its Guard and Reserve–is there to fight wars.
Update: I’ve written a 1300 piece on this subject for publication elsewhere. More when it’s published.