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Soldiers fight Pentagon on service extensions
Associated Press
December 06, 2004

Eight soldiers filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the army's policy requiring them to serve longer than the terms of their enlistment contracts.

The soldiers, believed to be the first active-duty personnel to file such a lawsuit, want a judge to order the army to immediately release them from service.

They say they weren't informed when they signed up that they could be kept in the service beyond their discharge date. The army says the policy is needed to ensure there are enough experienced soldiers on the battlefield.

David Qualls, one of the plaintiffs, said he signed up in July 2003 for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard but has been told he will remain on active duty in Iraq until next year.

"What this boils down to in my opinion is a question of fairness,'' he said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. "I served five months past my one-year obligation and I feel that it's time to let me go back to my wife.''

Under the Pentagon's "stop-loss'' program, the army can extend enlistments during war or national emergencies as a way to promote continuity and cohesiveness. The policy, invoked in June, was authorized by an emergency executive order signed by President George W. Bush three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also was employed during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War.

The army has defended the policy, saying the fine print on every military contract mentions the possibility that time of service may change under existing laws and regulations.

"The nation is at war, that's the key to this entire issue,'' said Lt.-Col. Bryan Hilferty, an army spokesman. "We're just using stop-loss for those troops deployed in the war on terror.''

Hilferty said about 7,000 active-duty soldiers have had their contracts extended under the policy, and it could affect up to 40,000 reserve soldiers depending how long the war in Iraq lasts.

The lawsuit says the contracts are misleading because they make no explicit reference to the policy.

Jules Lobel, a lawyer for the soldiers, accused the government of using "a classic bait-and-switch operation'' to lure recruits.

Other soldiers have filed similar cases over the past year, but this was believed to be the first by active-duty personnel.