Soldiers Challenge Policy of Extending Army Duty
- Saying they were duped into enlisting in the armed forces without being
told they could be prevented from leaving, eight soldiers filed a lawsuit
Monday challenging a policy forcing them to serve in Iraq beyond their
terms of enlistment.
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, a specialist in the
Arkansas National Guard, said at a news conference in Washington.
suit is the latest legal challenge to the U.S. Army's "stop-loss
policy" that has prevented thousands of soldiers from leaving the
military when their volunteer service commitment is over.
several California National Guard soldiers who received orders to report
for duty took the policy to court individually. The suit filed Monday
differed from the earlier legal challenges in that the soldiers were on
active duty in Iraq.
the stop-loss program, the Army can extend enlistments during war or
national emergencies. The policy was used before, in the buildup to the
1991 Persian Gulf War.
the policy is based on a federal statute that was not included in
contracts signed by the soldiers when they enlisted. The lawsuit contends
that that makes the policy a breach of contract because it extends
soldiers' length of service without their consent.
was fraudulent enlistment, and the fact that the Pentagon is seeking to
enforce this is somewhat shocking," said Jeffrey Fogel, legal
director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a liberal-leaning civil
rights group based in New York assisting the eight soldiers in their
lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said the Pentagon had not reviewed
the lawsuit and would not comment. But he defended the policy of extending
tours of duty, saying it was needed for cohesiveness and continuity.
"The alternative is people start leaving that unit in the middle of a
tour," he said.
House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked at a briefing about the lawsuit,
said that military conflict necessitates sacrifices by enlistees.
are a nation that remains at war," McClellan said. "We're at war
against terrorism. It's important that we win this war. We appreciate the
sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. And these are difficult issues
sometimes that the Department of Defense has to work to address."
the only plaintiff publicly identified, is home on leave. The other seven
are now serving in Iraq or are in Kuwait en route to Iraq.
soldiers sued Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior
military officials in federal court, asking to be immediately released
from military service because they had served out their contracts.
and two other plaintiffs enlisted under so-called Try One contracts that
allow veterans to serve for one year before committing to full enlistment.
Qualls said that when his contract expired a year later, he was told he
could not return home from Iraq, where he had served nine months, to his
wife and daughter in Arkansas.
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.
"What it boils down to in my opinion is a question of fairness," Qualls, 35, said.