January 26, 2006

US court dismisses challenge to extended Army duty

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge has thrown out a
legal challenge filed by two soldiers to a U.S. Army policy
forcing them to remain in the military for duty in the Iraq war
after their voluntary service commitment ended.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth this week dismissed a
case filed in 2004 by two Army National Guard soldiers, David
Qualls and Rafael Perez, who claimed the Army fraudulently
persuaded soldiers to enlist without specifying their service
might be involuntarily extended.

Lamberth said Qualls' claim was moot because he voluntarily
re-enlisted in the military shortly after filing suit.

The judge said Perez's enlistment contract made clear that
the Army might extend his service, and there was no evidence
that his recruiter misled him.

Lamberth granted the government's motion to dismiss the
case on Tuesday.

The case was the latest failed court challenge to a policy
known as "stop-loss" applied to units designated to serve in
Iraq or Afghanistan, that has extended the service of about
50,000 soldiers beyond their voluntary term, according to Army

The Army says the policy is vital to keep units cohesive
and ready to fight. Critics call it a "back door draft" at a
time when the Army is under strain due to large-scale troop
deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eight soldiers initially were part of the lawsuit, but six
who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of Army retaliation
dropped out after Lamberth ruled they could not remain in the
case without revealing their names.

A stop-loss order means soldiers who otherwise could leave
when their voluntary commitments expire, starting 90 days
before being sent overseas, are forced to remain to the end of
the deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to
their home base.

With year-long combat tours, that means some may remain in
the Army up to 18 months beyond when they were scheduled to

Qualls voluntarily re-enlisted in the military for a new
six-year term in February 2005 in order to collect a $15,000
re-enlistment bonus, saying he did so in order to stave off
bankruptcy, salvage his business and provide for his family.

Lamberth rejected Perez's claim that a military recruiter
had falsely assured him that he could try out the National
Guard for one year, and that after the one year he would have
no further commitment unless he voluntarily chose to make one.

"But like most recruiters in the military, Perez's
recruiter did not discuss the rare occurrences of the
military's 'stop-loss' policy nor did Perez ask about that
policy," the judge stated.