Our nation has relied upon a volunteer
military since the end of the Vietnam War, and the men and women
who are willing to accept the dangers inherent to the military
deserve praise for their commendable service in the recent
conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, a volunteer army of
highly motivated, highly trained soldiers is almost certainly more
efficient and better suited to defend our country than an army of
disheartened conscripts. Yet the Bush Administration, seeking
desperately to maintain a force sufficient to meet our foreign
policy commitments without instituting a draft, has thanked our
soldiers for their dedication to our nation’s security by
invoking dishonest policies that result in soldiers performing
involuntary tours of duty overseas.

Mira Levitan

It is not surprising that the Pentagon has called up Army
Reserve and National Guard units for overseas duty. Certainly, many
of the men and women in these institutions enlisted expecting to
serve one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer and have had
to set aside career and family. National Guard troops in
particular, who may have envisioned themselves performing flood
relief at home, may be shocked to find themselves assigned to Iraq.
There is, however, precedent for these deployments: Reserve and
National Guard units were deployed in the first Gulf War.

The Bush Administration, however, has instituted particularly
underhanded policies to maintain troop strength. The Pentagon has
issued what is known as a “stop-loss” order under which
soldiers whose units are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan must serve
the entire 12 months overseas, plus an additional 90 days,
regardless of when their term of enlistment ends. In some cases,
soldiers have been notified of their new deployments as little as
two days before they were to have left the military. This is
conscription without a draft; soldiers are performing active duty
they never volunteered to serve.

The Pentagon has also begun calling up soldiers from the
Individual Ready Reserve. This reserve, originally instituted in
case of catastrophic national emergency, is composed primarily of
soldiers who have recently left active duty but are subject to
call-up for a period of four years. These men and women do not
drill, are not paid and have re-entered civilian life — only
to find themselves forcibly re-enlisted in the military. Recently,
the Pentagon has enlisted the Internal Revenue Service to help
track down former soldiers for return to active duty.

These measures have still not been sufficient and the Pentagon
continues to search for new soldiers. Some have been re-deployed
from South Korea. In other cases, military functions have been
turned over to private contractors who, dangerously, are not
subject to the military chain of command; some of these contractors
were involved in the recent prison abuse scandal. As these
unconscionable policies continue, potential and future soldiers
learn that the military is liable to abuse their trust and forcibly
assign them to active duty beyond the four years for which they
originally volunteered. Should these dishonest policies continue
indefinitely, fewer men and women will volunteer to defend our
country, and our nation will be confronted with a difficult choice
we should not have to face: Either reduce our military to a size
incompatible with the extent of our security needs or abandon the
principles of an all-volunteer army.

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