The U.S. Military: Vol•un•teers at War

On January 23, 1973, President Nixon made a public statement to the American people. After five years of peace talks, the United States had reached a peace accord with Vietnam. United States Prisoners of War (POW) would be released and, as Nixon announced over a live television broadcast, an internationally supervised ceasefire would soon commence.

By March, U.S. troops had pulled out completely, and men aged 18-26 had one less thing to worry about: the draft.  Not long after, the draft officially ended and the U.S. converted to an All-Volunteer Force (AVF).

vol•un•teer n. (v l  n-tîr ): A person who performs or offers to perform a service voluntarily.

The scenario for enlistment is now much different than when we were at war with Vietnam. Today, millions of men and women voluntarily enlist in the Navy, Marine Corp, Army and Air Force. Many hope to make the military into a career, and thousands see the world with assignments to Air Force bases in Japan and Korea, Naval fleets in the Pacific and Army barracks in Saudi Arabia. But when I mentioned the phrase ‘voluntary military’ to an Army Intelligence Officer and Army Infantryman, my sincerity was met with laughter.
“When I was deployed to Iraq, I had about three months left in my eight year military service,” Army Infantryman Camilo Mejia told me.

“Three months. And before being deployed to Iraq, my company commander got everyone together and he said, ‘If you’re about to get out of the military, you’ve been extended until the year 2031.’ 2031…After eight years of service. So I’m not sure you can call that voluntary.”

I paused to consider what he had said. And I wondered, what exactly does it mean when your military contract is extended without your consent?

It means you’ve been stop-lossed.

According to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) online dictionary, stop-loss is described as this:

“to suspend laws relating to promotion, retirement, or separation of any member of the Armed Forces determined essential to the national security of the United States… This authority may be exercised by the President only if Reservists are serving on active duty under Title 10 authorities for Presidential Reserve Call-up, partial mobilization, or full mobilization.”

So in a basic sense, if the President determines that the loss of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine would compromise the security of the U.S., the contract is extended. Simple as that. According to the Army Times, the Army has been hardest hit, with more than 10,000 members being stop-lossed in recent years.

As the war in Iraq enters its sixth year of occupation, 4,000 American deaths and multiple deployments – experts suggest that stop-loss is a major factor in producing the the highest rate of desertion in the military since 2001, leaving the military strained. But just who is deserting, and how can a volunteer decide to do something so drastic?

Stay tuned for more on GI Resistance and a first hand account of a Marine who joined at age seventeen with incentives of college tuition. Barely two years later, he found himself on a journey of self-discovery and resistance — and, as he told me from a Federal prison, there was no choice but to desert after learning of a second deploment to Iraq.

This is Erica Anderson. Washington, DC. Street Team ’08.

2 thoughts on “The U.S. Military: Vol•un•teers at War

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