Monday, December 06, 2004

Backdoor Draft?

Today's NYTimes reports on eight soldiers filing a lawsuit against the Army for not holding up its end of their contracts.

Stop-loss is a touchy subject in the Army, and it affects quite a few people (including three other officers in my section). The Army uses stop-loss in various situations, such as when a unit is preparing to deploy or when a shortage in a certain MOS (military occupational specialty) occurs.

The first type (for a deploying unit) is necessary, and I do not think it's unreasonable. If it did not exist, deploying with a trained and functional unit would be very difficult, since under normal circumstances soldiers move in and out of units very often.

I believe that the second type of stop-loss (MOS-specific) is much harder to justify. It's often used on soldiers with jobs that require a lot of training, or in-depth background checks, such as pilots, linguists, and intelligence analysts. (Coincidentally, those are also the jobs with the best pay in the civilian world.)

Certainly, in a time of war, the Army may need to use a stop loss as a temporary fix, but using it over the long term is abusive. Incentives should be adjusted, or service obligations should be lengthened, but violation of a contract is wrong no matter who is doing it.

As a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, I know that my service obligation is a year longer since the Army sent me to flight school; I agreed to that term of service before I started training, and I have no problem with it. Additionally, Army pilots receive 'flight pay' of up to about $800 extra per month and are eligible for bonuses of up to about $20,000 depending upon rank, time in service, and type of aircraft.

Measures like these are completely fair. If the Army cannot retain pilots (or any other MOS) they should adjust the service agreements or incentives until they can meet their retention goals, not use the stop-loss as a long-term solution.

The NYTimes didn't specify, but it sounds like the soldiers in the article are affected by the unit stop-loss. Reserve and National Guard units are often on orders of 18 months or more, which is quite a long time if you thought you were about to get out, but I don't see an easy solution for getting rid of the unit stop-loss.

One quick note: the NYTimes gives a nice, long article to these eight guys, but a search of their website didn't turn up any articles on the thousands of troops who have re-enlisted here in a combat zone. (please let me know if I missed any) I've been to many re-enlistment ceremonies in the last year, and they are pretty inspiring.

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