Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Soldier, it's time to soldier

Warning: Intemperate language follows:

I was going through my blog list while eating lunch today, and I found this post concerning the IRR in the Mudville Gazette's open links forum. The author equates activation of IRR soldiers beyond their originally scheduled ETS (Expiration Term of Service - the day you're out of the military) date with a new draft. The first comment to the article refers to it as an "injustice." And Paul Conner, of DefenseWatch, weighs in with an article discussing the "drafting" of Sgt. Emiliano Santiago, who's ETS date was adjusted so that he could deploy to Afghanistan with his Oregon National Guard unit. Paul Conner notes that the 9th Circuit refused to grant relief to Sgt. Santiago, thus requiring him to deploy as scheduled. Mr. Conner feels that this decision represents "egregious violations of contractual terms and conditions."

Well, bullshit - these people are simply wrong. Getting tapped on the way out the door for combat service may be a flaming pain in the ass, but it's not an injustice, and it's not a draft. And it certainly doesn't violate the terms of the voluntary enlistment contract.

When you initially sign up, you sign up for an obligated period of service of eight years. For part of that eight years, you may sign up for an active duty obligation (two, three, four or six years, depending on the specialty, the branch of service, and the benefits you get.) You may choose to go directly into the reserves or guard, and have a six year initial drilling obligation. Either way, you're in the military for the whole eight years. If you complete your active duty or organized reserve obligation, and you choose not to re-enlist, you don't get out. You're transferred to the IRR (the individual ready reserve) for the remainder of your eight year commitment - you don't have to show up for work, and you don't get paid, but you're still in the military. You're not out until the eight years is up.

And, like anyone else in the military, you're subject to involuntary extension in a time of war or national emergency, for the duration plus six months. That rule extends back before we got into the Second World War, so it's not like its been sprung on us suddenly during the GWOT. It's embedded in the US code (Title 10 USC 671(a)):

Members: service extension during war

Unless terminated at an earlier date by the Secretary concerned, the period of active service of any member of an armed force is extended for the duration of any war in which the United States may be engaged and for six months thereafter."

And it's not like service members don't know this going in. Enlistees, who have to meet minimum education and intelligence requirements, and who can thus be presumed to be able to read and understand their enlistment contract, have all this explained to them in the document - and not tucked away in some small font size addendum either. The enlistment contract clearly spells out, in about 14 point type:


a. FOR ALL ENLISTEES: If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component unless I am sooner discharged.

b. If I am a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force at the beginning of a period of war or national emergency declared by Congress, or if I become a member during that period, my military service may be extended without my consent until six (6) months after the end of that period of war.

c. As a member of a Reserve Component, in time of war or national emergency declared by the Congress, I may be required to serve on active duty (other than for training) for the entire period of the war or emergency and for six (6) months after its end.

So, again, legally and contractually (in case you missed it the first time), the rules are pretty simple, and they're spelled out for you before you sign up: when you join, you accept an eight year obligation. You're not out until the eight years is up. If you accept a commission (as an officer or as a commissioned warrant), you're not out until your initial obligated period of service is up, and you resign your commission (it goes back to the whole officer and a gentleman thing - gentlemen are expected to know enough to send regrets if they don't want to go to the party.)

At any time during that eight years, if Congress declares a war or national emergency, you can be extended for the duration plus six months. The Pentagon would be well within the limits of the law and its "contractual obligation" to service members to tell the entire force (including the IRR) that they can't get out until the whole thing's over. They haven't done that - they have called people up out of the IRR, including some people who have been extended beyond their original ETS date to go. Those people all knew that possibility existed when they signed up. The IRR exists to provide a pool of trained manpower available in a war or emergency - the benefits you get when you sign up aren't just for the period of active or "drilling" reserve service you accept. They're also in exchange for you being a part of that pool if you get out. If you don't like that, don't sign the paper.

The fact that even the egregiously anti-military 9th Circuit didn't find the counter-arguments to that position to be compelling seems to be a fair indicator that the arguments against involuntary extension lack any merit.

Yeah, of course it would suck to get tapped on the way out the door - and I'm sure it doesn't seem fair to somebody who's been in the IRR for several years, and who thinks of themselves as out of the army, to get pulled back in at the last minute. But it's not an injustice - it's what they signed up for. If there are individual circumstances that would make it an injustice to call a service member back to active duty (a medical condition or an extreme hardship - single parenthood, a sick spouse or parent, etc.), there is a process to apply for and receive an exemption. I know that people and circumstances change in eight years - but there are some commitments you make that you're not allowed to break just because they seem inconvenient later. The military is one of those commitments.

Now, you can argue that calling up IRR soldiers indicates that the system is broken, that we should enlarge the size of our active army beyond 10 divisions, that our officer procurement system is inadequate, etc. I tend to not to give those arguments much credence (the IRR exists to give the military surge capacity beyond its peacetime active levels, and I think that we should give restructuring a chance - even though I'm dubious about some of its particulars - before increasing the size of the military), but they are arguable points. What I think is disingenious is the conflation of concerns about how we manage personnel strength in the ground forces with the argument that it's somehow "unjust" to expect somebody who has signed a contract and taken an oath to honor their commitments.

Bitching about things that seem unfair or burdensome - from KP to guard duty to getting involuntarily recalled - is the ancient and honored right of the soldier. I'm not going to think less of anyone for complaining about how they're getting screwed as they get on the bird - as long as they get on the bird. And this post isn't directed at the IRR soldiers who get called up, make their arrangements, and go, however reluctantly. But the IRR soldiers who do get called up and start looking for ways to get out of it, or seeking support for not going, need to re-read their contracts, honor their commitments, get their heads screwed on straight, and cowboy the fuck up.

UPDATE: Based on some news articles and some commentary in the blogosphere, it appeared that Sgt Santiago might have been screwed by the paperwork - that is, his eight year enlistment had already expired, but his unit hadn't outprocessed him, when the stop-loss was imposed on his unit. If you read the government's appelate brief, though, Santiago's unit was notified for Afghan service on April 17th, 2004, and Sgt Santiago's enlistment wasn't up until June 2004. Had the sequence been reversed, I probably would have supported Santiago's efforts to get out - but the stop-loss was imposed while his enlistment was current.

UPDATE 2: Also according to the brief, the government is depending on the President's authority under 10 USC 12302, 10 USC 12305 and his declaration of national emergency, and not under the declaration of national emergency found in Senate Joint Resolution 23. In that case, his statutory authority is limited to 24 months of active duty instead of the duration plus six months. That reads in the enlistment contract, as follows:

(1) In time of national emergency declared by the President of the United States I may be ordered to active duty (other than for training) for not more than 24 consecutive months.


Blogger Uncle Jimbo said...


It's sad how the media love to fixate on any perceived slight by DOD. A little misrepresentation and a normal policy is a nefarious slap to the troops, who they care about, really they do.


Uncle J

6:00 PM  
Blogger gonorr said...

its good to get the view point from someone who knows exactley what the Bobby is.
I must admit, that at the time with out the full facts that you wrote, that it struck me as unfair.
However, now that you have explained it clearly, which has been missing from reports over here, i agree fully with you.
I remember when the Falklands kicked off, there where parents giving it ' my little Johny cant go, he joined the army to play the trumpet'
Same sort of shite eh?
keep on writing, its good ;-)
btw did the halo guy do one from concorde as well ;-)

7:48 PM  
Blogger JA said...

As a crazy liberal arts student joining the military, I get all kinds of fun questions...after one of my classmates read a couple of news articles about the kind of thing you mention, she asked me, "I don't know much about how all this works, but they tell you when you sign up that you might have to go to war, right?" Uh, yeah. "So what's this guy's problem?" That's a good question. Ugh.

Thanks again for a wonderful blog!!

1:51 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That made a lot of sense, thank you. Now I wonder, what is the problem then. It ain't like they didn't have a clue..

Jennifer Martinez sends

1:52 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Thanks for the clear, concise and lucid explanation of the governing portions of the enlistment contract. You seem to have covered all the bases in a fair and balanced manner.


1:54 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Umm ditto...

Really, what a damn whiner. He is an NCO. The bitching and whining was supposed to be performed my elinsted grunt like me. The NCOs was supposer to operate with a god like grasp of any situation. NCOs protected us elisted pukes from ourselves and the stupidity of the officers given charge of us. I say not to use this fine gentleman for no reason other than his men will not trust him.

Sit him at a desk and let him fill some necessary, but non-command role.

1:54 AM  
Blogger bblatt said...

Thanks for the info on graduate programs. Time to start filling out thise apps and searching for the "free ride" program.

2:19 AM  
Anonymous DrainBamaged said...

I feel the same way you do about this subject. But, I have less animosity towards this NCO than I do towards an Active Duty NCO trying to get out of a deployment into a combat theater of operations.

When my unit was prepping for deployment to Desert Storm we had one such "lifer" NCO. He was a bad-ass, hard-charger. Always talking about what we should do or how he'd act in real combat. That is until it came time for the real deal.

He claimed it was because of his asthma. How could he possibly wear a pro-mask in the event of a chemical/biological attack? It's funny that he had no problem wearing one during unit training.

I remember one specific event where he told our squad, during unmasking procedure training, that he'd kill the first person whom failed to follow a direct order to unmask in real life.

It's really amazing how that asthma cropped up,... real sudden like. He whined and cried about it so much that my frustrated CO finally DX'd his ass. When we returned from Desert Storm we found that not only was he working as an MPI-V5 (Military Police Investigations) but he had been promoted to Staff Sergeant.

I knew then it was get out of that unit or out of the Army.

Keep up the great work,


2:46 AM  
Blogger Synova said...

Jennifer said:

"That made a lot of sense, thank you. Now I wonder, what is the problem then. It ain't like they didn't have a clue.."

Actually, in the comments over on the linked T.O.C. blog, "IRR soldier" is, in fact, claiming not to have had a clue. Apparently because he was an officer and no one ever once told him he had to resign his commission to get off the IRR list and it never occured to him to ask for details, since the IRR was *only* for WWIII and that was unlikely to happen.

... yeah, I know.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Barb said...

That is the best explanation I've read on this story, and the IRR in general. Thanks a bunch for clarifying the rules and expectations!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Synova, now that's real interesting. Occifer + didn't have a clue... LOL. Never occured to him... So because he didn't have a clue we have to read his annoying whinning comments.

DrainBamaged (or however you spell that), that's pretty messed up about that NCO you had. Punking out, abandoning his men and all. Wow, I wonder how he can look himself in the mirror every morning.

Jennifer Martinez sends

4:39 PM  
Anonymous murphy said...

My dad and many other WWII vets were called up from the IRR when the Korean War started. In fact, they were mobilized before the reserve/ANG units were called up. So this is hardly something new, and I find it very hard to believe that ANY service member really expected to ETS during wartime. It would almost be insulting if they allowed you to.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Vietnam era vet and the father of a regular army officer. I have some ambivalence about "stop-loss". I can see the need to establish a unit and not have personnel turnovers while training for and undertaking a deployment. Thus, if someone is about due to get out, and their unit is going to Iraq, they are going. However, there seems to be no clear guideline for the individual soldier to have any idea how long he will be held. In the case of Santiago, whose legal appeal was covered extensively here in Seattle, he was due to ETS ten months before his unit was scheduled to deploy. Given his MOS, it is difficult to believe a replacement could not be trained in that time frame.

Stop-loss should be used only when absolutely necessary to insure the ability of the unit to perform its' mission, not just to avoid having to recruit. There should be clear guidelines regarding how far in advance of deployment stop loss can be imposed, and how quickly after the deployment ends the soldier will be released. Further, to insure that stop loss is not used unnecessarily, Congress should enact some extra compensation for those on whom stop loss is imposed, and additional reenlistment incentives for units facing deployment.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

I'm also ambivalent about the wisdom of stop-loss being used on a wide scale - both for morale and for recruiting / retention reasons. I understand the reasoning behind it, though - and it might not have been as easy to replace Sgt Santiago as it might seem. First of all, he was an NCO, and thus a supervisor, and a level 2 in his MOS, so replacing him would mean a chain of events - finding a specialist to select, train and promote into his position, a private to replace the specialist, and a recruit to replace the specialist. Plus, unlike the active services, it's not at all unusual for NG / Reserve forces to have shortages in their ranks, so from that point of view it made sense to keep the man. At some point, though, I think you will break the system if you go to often to the well.

All of that being said, though, the thrust of my post was that, if the Army chooses to exercise its option to stop-loss a reservist, or to call someone up out of the IRR, the only honorable route for the lucky individual to follow (lacking some special circumstance) is to go.

I'm also ambivalent about the idea of a "stop-loss" bonus. Yeah, from the POV of the individual who's been stop-lossed, it seems fair that they should get some special recognition. On the other hand, is it fair to those who, say, have an enlistment expiring the day after the deployment ends that luck of the draw means they don't get the bonus. And do we want to encourage people to game the system, not re-enlisting when they otherwise would in the hopes they'll get picked up on stop-loss and get some extra cash?

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Since this started from my posting, i guess I should jump in.

Never in my posts will you see that I say the Army or the Government does not have the right to do this recall. What I say is that it is unprecedented except during time of full scale war where we have a draft. Then, everyone goes anyway.

I question the ethics of the Army however when they call up people purposefully who are at the end of their time in service. This must be a conscious and planned act (given the amount of people they are doing this to)to get "free" manpower. They do this at the same time they say there is no problem with force structure. They are lying to the American Public.

Finally, if the contract is all that matters why are the active Army soldiers WHINING so much about benefits? I posted this at my site stating that if we use the same argument on benefits that this group is using on the IRR then I would say why increase the death benefit, why increase medical and education benefits? After all you, all know what you got into when you signed up so tough luck now that you are getting maimed right?

For the record, while SYNOVA states IRR was claiming ignorance, she ADMITS to breaking the law by not fufilling her contractual obligations as an IRR to update addresses and send in yearly cards. While I may be against this, I at least followed the law.

The Command T.O.C.

3:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other point missed...did Congress declare war? I'm curious because I saw the attorney general on CSPAN the other explaining how our fight in Iraq was not a declared war but an exercise of presidential authority as commander in chief. This may throw a monkey wrench into the contractual comments that started this post.

1:49 AM  
Anonymous dam said...

I have just been activated out of the irr. I just have 5 months left until I reach 8 full years. This would not be so bad if I was still used to living on a spc4 pay. I fear my family may have to pay for my service to my country for a long time after my service is up. As far as I can tell no one cares if I lose every thing I have worked so hard for. I will return to Iraq for a third year and fight for people to have what my family is giving up. That is what is unjust about this process is I am take back with out any thought given to the fact that I have moved on to a point were the pay I was making is something I cant survive on now. By the time I am able to be promoted I will be out

1:36 AM  
Anonymous grunt-man said...


STFU. So you're 'joining?' Thanks for wanting to serve. But you ain't served yet, much less deployed and as for your female classmate, give her a tall mug of STFU. A civilian who will never serve criticizing a veteran soldier? Watch the opening scene in the film 'Way of the Gun.' Exactly how it should be done.

7:47 AM  

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