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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Soldiers angered by 'unfair' Iraq call-ups
By Catherine Miller
BBC, in Chicago, Illinois

US troops on the tarmac in Kuwait
The US army has been an all-volunteer force for decades
Six weeks ago, Robert Armstrong received a letter.

"Pursuant to presidential executive order of 14 September 2001," it read, "you are relieved from your present reserve component status and are ordered to report for a period of active duty."

Mr Armstrong had just become one of the first soldiers called up in what some critics are calling America's "backdoor draft".

Released from the army in 2000 due to family hardship, Mr Armstrong had been transferred to a pool called the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).

"They explained in case of war I could be recalled, but... because of the hardship and my situation, I thought it wasn't something to be concerned about," he says.

But since July, the army has begun the process of calling up 5,600 IRR members to fill gaps in the forces serving in Iraq.

People such as mechanics, engineers, carpenters and cooks, like Mr Armstrong, are being told to report for duty.

Most people in the 110,000-strong IRR originally signed up to an eight-year enlistment contract but only spent part of it on active duty.

Staying on the books

Until their mandatory term expires, they serve out their time on the IRR's books.

If he returns, Mr Armstrong says, the family difficulties which caused his release four years ago will only worsen.

His salary will drop from $45,000 to $19,000 - a financial catastrophe, he says, for his four children.

I'm being forced either to support my four kids or my country and it's not a fair choice
Robert Armstrong,
reservist
He does not know where he would be deployed, or for how long. His call-up papers state only: "Period of active duty not to exceed 545 days, unless extended or terminated by proper authority. Purpose: partial mobilisation - Operation Iraqi Freedom."

He has filed for exemption from call-up.

"In no way am I a non-patriot... I'm being forced either to support my four kids or my country and it's not a fair choice," he adds.

The army counters that IRR is part of the deal for those who sign up.

"America is at war, and, thankfully, we have soldiers, patriots and volunteers, who are on the front line of that war," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty says.

"These volunteers... understood when they signed up that they might be called on to fight for their nation... These (IRR) citizen soldiers are part of the force, and we're calling them into active service."

Delayed discharge

Brad Lindsay, a military policeman in the army reserve, also feels the army is not playing fair.

He was due to be discharged in June 2002, but did not celebrate leaving the force until this week.

INDIVIDUAL READY RESERVE
Currently numbers 111,000
Members have active status but do not train
Most recent mass involuntary call-ups: 1991 and 1968
The reason is an army policy called "stop-loss" - orders which mean a soldier due to complete his service has his or her exit date pushed back.

Currently the order applies to all soldiers who have been - or who are about to be - mobilised. Under stop-loss, they must serve until 90 days after the army ships them home to the US.

In February 2002, a stop-loss order automatically extended the service of military policemen by a year.

Then, in January 2003, Mr Lindsay's unit mobilised and he was told he could not be discharged until after the unit came home.

"I was already six months beyond my contract date and realising that my enlistment contract meant nothing," he remembers thinking as he was sent to Iraq.

'Immune to disappointment'

Once there, he says, he was constantly given dates to go home, some as early as July 2003. In the end, he did not return until April 2004.

"We had had the carpet jerked from under us so many times, we had become almost immune to disappointment. Unit morale suffered, especially for the dozen or so that were under stop-loss orders," he says.

US troops in Iraq (generic)
The Pentagon says it has a duty to keep good units together
"My family couldn't even understand why I was there. My enlistment was up and how did invading Iraq constitute a national emergency to keep me in?"

But the army argues stop-loss is a necessary operational measure.

"Stop-loss is about keeping cohesive, trained units that are prepared for the rigours of combat," says Lt Col Hilferty.

"We appreciate the stress stop-loss has on those affected, but the nation is at war and we have an obligation to all of our soldiers to deploy them with the best units possible."

The army says 4,700 active duty soldiers are beyond their previously scheduled end-of-service date.

It cannot provide statistics for the National Guard and reservists, where numbers are thought to be much higher.

New use of powers

Retired Colonel Michael Noone of the Columbus School of Law says the military is using its powers in a new way.

"There were always legal mechanisms to allow this kind of draft, but it's the first time they have really been relied on," he says.

"It's a backdoor draft in the sense that here are people being called to service who are not being called voluntarily," he says.

The nation is at war and we have an obligation to all of our soldiers to deploy them with the best units possible
Lt Col Bryan Hilferty,
Army spokesman

"It seems unfair to subject people to this [stop-loss] service which was more than they agreed to... IRR is a clearer commitment but [those recalled] also have reason to complain because historically they have not been compelled to serve."

A California national guard reservist, know only as John Doe is, challenging this new approach. Last week he filed papers in a San Francisco court, contesting the stop-loss order imposed on him.

Congress allows the president to order the extension of enlistments during a declared war or a period of national emergency.

The John Doe challenge contends that Mr Bush has over-reached his authority.

"I would think any ruling in our favour would call into question the programme," says Joshua Sondheimer, co-counsel in the case.

Patriots

All the servicemen and women interviewed for this article emphasised their patriotism and readiness to defend the country, whether they were in favour of the Iraq war or not.

But those with concerns about the Army's actions say an implicit understanding quid pro quo is being violated.

Soldiers will do what they're told but don't jerk them around
Iraq veteran
"Senior leaders point out that everyone who enlists knows that stop-loss is a possibility," says Mr Lindsay. "We also trust that the definition of 'national emergency' is not abused."

"You can't expect to have an 'all-volunteer force' and then mercilessly abuse the volunteers. The selfless service, brotherhood and camaraderie used to be enough for me, but I owe my family more," he adds.

The dissent is certainly not universal.

Many active and former soldiers share the army's view that putting yourself in the line of fire comes with the territory, and there is plenty of criticism for those seen as happy to accept the benefits the military offers without being prepared to pay the price.

But the rumble appears to be growing and some predict it will ultimately hurt the military as those affected, like Mr Armstrong and Mr Lindsay, choose not to re-enlist.

"Soldiers will do what they're told but don't jerk them around," said one Iraq veteran. "America made a contract with its soldiers and now it's being undermined."




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