Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Perspective: The 'involuntary draft'

Steven Packer was on his 3rd tour of Iraq when he was killed on May 17. He was supposed to be out of the Army last year, but under stop loss orders, Steve and thousands of others were forced to stay in another year.

As the U.S. moves into its fifth year in Iraq and escalates troop levels there, the Pentagon has kept combat units manned by forcing as many as 80,000 soldiers to stay in uniform and in war zones even after their enlistment obligations have been met or their retirement dates have passed.

The policy, known as "stop loss" and utilized more during the war in Iraq than ever before, has sparked such a spate of lawsuits and backlash in the ranks that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered all branches of the services to formulate plans to minimize use of the unpopular policy while still maintaining combat readiness.

The policy, practically speaking, means that a soldier who signs up for four years can expect to be held on the job five years or more if his unit is deploying. In addition, those who have completed 20 years of service—the time previously required for unquestioned retirement with full benefits—increasingly have seen their applications for retirement denied. And the vast majority of these troops find that stop loss means one thing: Instead of beginning new lives in the civilian world, they are headed back to Iraq for their second, third or even fourth combat tours, a practice critics say amounts to nothing less than an involuntary draft.

Read the rest at the Chicago Tribune