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From Draft NOtices, May - June, 2004

Held Against Their Will: U.S. Military and Reservists

— Lorraine Demi

Apparently, deploying troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and Europe simultaneously is beyond what the U.S. military can do. Yet they're doing it — by holding thousands of soldiers and reservists long past their release dates, against their will, with serious detriment to their health, careers, families and morale.

The Army has begun offering bonuses of up to $10,000 for soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait who will re-enlist for more time in the military. At the same time, though, thousands of soldiers are not being allowed to retire or leave the military for up to 90 days after returning to their home bases. The Army has blocked 40,000 soldiers from leaving the ranks, with about 16,000 of those being National Guard and reservists who were eligible to leave this year. As of December 31, 2003, the Pentagon reported 187,746 National Guard and Reserve troops had been mobilized. Approximately 20% of U.S. troops initially sent to Iraq were reservists or Guard members. This number is expected to double soon. David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, said, "We have stopped treating the reserves as a force in reserve. Our volunteer army is closer to being broken today than ever before in its 30-year history."

Many examples have been reported exemplifying how these situations are creating severe hardships on soldiers and reservists:

  • In December 2003, a group of angry reservists sent out an e-mail entitled "Chained in Iraq" in which they complained that their businesses and careers in the civilian world were suffering due to the mandated extensions of their deployments.
  • A 28-year-old Navy air traffic controller was to be released in December 2001, but after 9/11, her retirement was "frozen." She was promised that if she re-enlisted for two more years, she would be assigned to the same base as her husband. Instead, she was sent to Iraq. At the end of those two extension years, she received notice that she will be deployed to Iraq for another eight months. She has been married for five years and has never lived with her husband due to deployments and assignments.
  • An Army Rangers captain was to leave the military in May 2002, yet has been told that he will remain at his current post in Iraq until next Christmas. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His fiancé wrote to Reuters: "Every minute of every day is filled with concern for him. From my understanding, soldiers were not to be sent to war-zone type of deployments for longer than six months. I guess our country is no longer playing by the rules."

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think-tank said that forcing soldiers to serve against their will results in an unhappy and eventually ineffective military. "The fact that the force is stretched so thin creates conditions that make more people anxious to leave. We're darned [sic] close to this becoming a serious operational issue," he said. Conversely, Rumsfeld reported in January that the number of troops being retained in the military past release dates is relatively small and that the military has been able to retain the numbers of people it needed. It seems that there might be 40,000 Army personnel and many more in the other military branches who would disagree with Mr. Rumsfeld.

Being held against one's will, affecting all parts of one's life, controlling one's travel and freedom to live as one chooses is akin to incarceration. Troops and reservists have no control over when they quit their jobs, move to new locations, or become fodder for yet another war. A release date is often the only positive focus in these situations, and often becomes the sole motivator for military personnel as morale wanes and personal lives are affected greatly by deployments. When that release date is taken away, families and military personnel are affected.

We can only hope that recruitment and enlistment rates will be affected as youth and young adults learn of the inhumanities and involuntary incarceration military life provides.

Information Source: Reuters, January 8, 2004.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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