Soldiers Sue over Extended Enlistments

Soldiers sue over extended enlistments (MSNBC)

An Army specialist, saying it was “a question of fairness,” filed a lawsuit Monday with seven other soldiers challenging a policy forcing them to serve in Iraq beyond their terms of enlistment. “I served five months past my one-year obligation and I feel that it’s time to let me go back to my wife,” David Qualls told a news conference. Qualls and seven other reserve members filed a suit in federal court seeking a judge’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 Pentagon’s “stop-loss” 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 soldier̢۪s 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. “The alternative is people start leaving that unit in the middle of a tour,” 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 “Try One” contracts that have expired. Four others are serving under multiyear contracts that also have run out. The remaining soldier’s contract doesn’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.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Chuckg says:

    Apparently, these idiots have never read the ‘… or for the duration’ part of the contract. They might call it ‘exigencies of the service’ now.

    At any rate, my recruiter at least made it clear to me that if a war happened to break out in the middle of my hitch, I most likely wouldn’t be going anywhere until it was done, whether it ran over my EAOS or not.

  2. Bithead says:

    It’d be interestng to see who is funding the suit.

  3. Jeff Quinton says:

    My first National Guard unit was in Charleston so they got a lot of prior USAF and USN people doing the “Try One” contract thing. All it took was one trip to the field for them to decide not to re-enlist usually (and we were usually around a Bde TOC when we went to the field too – it’s not like we were a line unit.)

  4. Anjin-San says:

    The president could not be bothered to take a mandatory physical that was part of his military obligation during wartime. He managed to “make a deal” with the military to get out of part of his service.

    Guess actually fufilling your entire oblgation is just for the peasants…

  5. Mort says:

    Not that I would concider it but I was under the impression that while you are still in a contract you can not sue the government. That person is now goverment proporty and you go where your told to go. Period! The military isn’t there so people can get a free education that just happends to be one of the benifits for serving your country. Now go serve it like you agreed to do!

  6. ken says:

    The legal issue is really simple. It is a matter of the contract. If his agreement was for one year with no mention of a unilateral extension then Qualls is correct and he should be released from service. If there was a clause allowing the service to keep him against his will then he is the loser.

    The fairness issue however is more complex. If he was persuaded to join the reserves just to try it out for one year and the small print was ignored or dismissed as irrelevant by his recruiter, and if it was common practice to decieve recruits this way, then Qualls has a point. The government should not be in the business of snookering people into contracts they would not have otherwise agreed to sign.

    Between non-government parties it is perhaps common practice to gain an unfair advantage, but your government should be trusted to deal squarely with all citizens.

  7. Patriot says:

    Thank you, Anjin-San, great point.

    The rest of you are blood-stained chicken hawks. Why aren’t you cowards raping the poor of Iraq for yourselves, eh? Scared you don’t have what it takes to waste a child for your country?

    The only legitimate action any patriot can take is to refuse to serve in the chimp-in-chief’s imperialist wars of aggression. The ONLY soldiers worthy of support are those that fight the system and refuse to go. I pray every day that the bloodthirsty jocks who sign up to oppress the poor of the world get EVERYTHING that’s coming to them.

  8. Anjin-San says:


    While I think the war in Iraq is a tragic mistake, I also think your attack on our troops is sadly misguided.

    I am very grateful to the guys who are willing to put their asses on the line for OUR freedom. The fact that I think the Bush administration has betrayed them does not change this…

  9. LJD says:

    Don’t forget about the flight suit! Get some new material, unless, you don’t have any.

    Any one who has joined the military KNOWS it’s for 8 years, unless they’re stupid.
    …and I’ve got a great real estate opportunity for you, hopefully your government will protect you.

    Patriot (more like comrade):
    You are soo full of shit. Viva Fidel Castro! Now move to Cuba.

  10. John says:

    It is easy for us, sitting here in a nice warm home to say “those idiots should have known” but lets face it, there are not enough volunteers in our all volunteer Army.
    What we need is a fair draft that could draft you, me, or anyone.

    Lets see how many of you are for that 😉

    Oh, and Patriot, our soldiers don’t rape the poor of Iraq. Sadam and his clan along with Kofi Anan however, seem to be expert at it.

  11. LJD says:

    Why do we always get back to the draft? What about mandatory national service? You don’t have to fight, you don’t even have to carry a gun. You just have to contribute to something bigger than yourself to be an American. It is an equal effort by the rich AND those scamming welfare.