Friday, March 17, 2006

All-Volunteer Army?

I recently received word from a friend that his term of service in the National Guard has been "involuntarily extended" for an as yet, unknown amount of time, but long enough so that he could be deployed somewhere for 18 months. Somewhere, mostly likely meaning Iraq, of course.

Ironically, my friend had been having a discussion within his family about what he should do regarding his future military service. He was active Army for 3 years starting in 1994 and has been a member of the National Guard ever since. He signed a contract with the Army which would have ended his commitment on the 4th of July, 2006. He has been dedicated to the military; he loves being a soldier. He is patriotic in a way that counts, not just talking about service to his country, but actually offering it in a tangible way.

On the other hand, he is the father of three small children and he is dedicated to them too. He has a wife who is dismayed at the thought of her husband leaving her to raise the kids alone while he goes off to war. They have been talking through his options: to re-enlist or not to re-enlist. They had not yet reached any conclusion. Now it isn't a choice he has to make because the Army has made it for him.

As he says, "I find it odd that I had a signed contract with the government...for a specified length of time that was to end on 4, July, 2006. Now, if I break my part of the contract, I will be arrested, discharged, fined, jailed, etc. BUT if Uncle Sugar decides that 4, July really means 4, July, then there is nothing wrong with that and a soldier nor his family has any known positive recourse...."

In other words, despite promises given and received on both sides, the Army can renege on it's side of the bargain, so his future and that of his family is up in the air, waiting on Uncle Sam to decide.

He isn't bitter or angry, having always felt that being a soldier was a part of his destiny somehow.

I feel bitter and angry for him, however. He is the first person I care a great deal about to go to Iraq (if he ends up going there). I don't think this is the way it is supposed to work. If we are going to send our kids to war (and he is young enough to be my son), then let's be honest about it and simply reinstate the draft. If we believe in Iraq, then we ought to be fair and call whoever we need instead of using this sneaky method of refusing to let soldiers leave when their time is up so that we can keep enough bodies available to fuel the war. This stretches the definition of "voluntary" and allows us to remain in denial about the true costs of Iraq.

What do you all think?