To the Editor
Perhaps one of your readers can address a question I have regarding the "all-volunteer" Army. A student of mine at PCC returned recently from a tour of combat duty with the Marines in Iraq. He is a very polite, young hispanic guy who calls everybody "sir," and who clearly was a good and dutiful soldier who did his unpleasant job without questioning the reason or need for it. His enlistment is up in April, and he is obviously delighted to be out of the heat and brutality of the war zone and back with his wife and family and the prospect of a normal, civilian life.
Last week he told me that his unit is being mobilized to go back to Iraq for another year. I suggested that surely this would not affect him, since his discharge date is just a few months away. "No sir," he said. They'll extend my enlistment. His employers are understandably reluctant to let him go, given his training and experience. He "knows the roads" as he says.
His training has given him the ability to override psychologically wrenching experiences, so he'll go back into that demented environment again, ducking rpgs and "roughing up" people he does not hate, though of course he is not a happy camper. He has not volunteered to do this extra year of combat, which no soldiers were required to do even in Vietnam. If he is not a volunteer, is he then a conscript? But we do not have a draft law in place, so how can that be?
In the Biafra War, Nigerian soldiers were conscripted by waylaying young men near their villages, putting a bag over their heads and dragging them off into the jungle, usually for good. As of the moment the bag goes over your eyes, you belong to the military, and lose all rights to return to your family. In America, enlistees sign an agreement with the U.S. Government to place themselves under military command and to forsake the protections of the Constitution for those of the UCMJ. Part of that agreement is the mutual acknowledgement of a discharge date, which even convicted felons can generally count on. So my question is this: After you become a soldier, can your discharge date simply be revised by the Pentagon? Can the military today require two or more tours of combat duty from its people? Can they keep you beyond the period for which you originally enlisted? Are young men apprised of this when they sign up?
Considering our somewhat cloudy purpose in Iraq, the soaring casualty rate and the absence of a credible exit strategy, isn't it likely that troop morale will be negatively impacted by hundreds of these returning vets whose freedom has been unexpectedly hijacked after having given so much already?