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Lietta Ruger, military family experience of deceptive use of stop loss.
I am mother-in-law and aunt to two Iraq veterans of 1st Armored, both served extended 15 month tours in Iraq, March 2003 through July 2004. The 1st Armored was the first division to be 'extended' at the time of the Sadr City uprising in May 2004. My two were already on their way home when the extension was initiated and required to remain in Iraq with their division and units as there were not enough troops on the ground at that time. They returned to their bases in Germany in July 2004. By Jan 2005, both were required to make re-enlist decisions. What they were told is that they would redeploy to Iraq for second deployments under Stop Loss, regardless of whether they re-enlisted or chose not to re-enlist. This left them both with the limited option of second deployments under stop loss orders less the promised re-enlistment bonus or with the re-enlistment bonus. The end result either way would be another deployment to Iraq. I would call this an involuntary deployment, and a strategical use of intimidation of stop loss to force decisions of retention of the existing troops. I would hardly call it the voluntary military, rather involuntary retention; an under-the-radar method of a forced conscription draft.
My two did decided to re-enlist (how voluntary was their decision is directly related to the forced choice via stop-loss). My son-in-law received bonus of $4,000.00 which falls far short of the touted amounts of $15,000 and above being promised as re-enlistment bonus. He did not complain, rather reluctantly offered up the information when I asked him if he indeed did receive any amount of 'bonus' once he signed the re-enlist forms. His life for $4,000.00?
Hardly seems to me that the military is living up to any promises being made to the troops and has engaged in deceptive practices through use of stop loss to retain a military presence in Iraq, rotating troops through second and third deployments to maintain an appearance of a voluntary military. As one returning Iraq veteran told me over the weekend, the troops view these repeat deployments via stop loss as being punished for voluntarily enlisting in the first place and strongly wonder why the load is not being more equitably distributed amongst Americans who claim continued support for the war in Iraq.
When my two Iraq veterans did return alive to their bases, rejoining their families (wives and children) in July 2004, by January 2005 they were told they were stop-lossed for second deployments. This hardly allows time to reconnect to their marriages and children. Meanwhile while waiting for their redeploy dates, they are in perpetual 'training' being 'downfield' for a month at a time, away from their families yet again, and when home working 10-15 hour days as part of the 'readiness training' (might I suggest direct relationship to too few troops to meet the needs). I know from my own contacts with other military families, and the young spouses, that this situation is not unique to my two, rather is the 'norm' amongst most military families who face second and third deployments to Iraq.
A few facts;
-- 1 million American children have a deployed parent
-- 304,000 troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Do the math, and with the standing 150,000 deployed troops, yet the actual 304,000 deployed, it's fairly easy to discern the same troops are being rotated in second and third deployments).
-- This is the first 'war' in which young people with spouses and children (families) have been deployed. Previous engagements and wars consisted more of young people who had not yet begun their families.
-- Divorce rate in military families is at 40%. I would point out that young marriages, young families have difficult enough time maintaining family bonding, and the excasperation of repeat deployments with absent parent serves to further antagonize and destroy the bonds of family.
In my own state, Washington, there have been 3 separate incidents of soldiers returning home to Ft Lewis base and killing their spouses.
-- Deployment time frame puts soldier and family under an 18-month period of uncertainty with the rules of stop-loss requiring a 3-month window pre-deployment and post-deployment plus the actual deployment which is subject to 'extensions'. That is one deployment. Repeat deployments subjects the soldier and family to repetitious 18-month periods of risk. It hardly makes for a foundation of strengthening family.
Lastly, I will add the 2 statements I usually make when speaking on behalf of the troops and their families. The military families carry the disproportionate weight and burden of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the troops do their jobs and their families do their jobs, the Commander-in-Chief is expected to do his job on behalf of the troops and their families. When this Commander-in-Chief appears to have abandoned responsibility and accountability to the troops, it is the job of the Congress and civilian citizens to hold the Commander-in-Chief accountable on behalf of the troops and their families and have the backs of our troops. It is a relationship of responsibility, accountability and trust that was taught to me as a young military brat. As a military family with background having been raised in military family, a young wife to young husband drafted and sent to Vietnam, and now a mother and aunt to two young Iraq veterans, I continue to be astounded that this model has been broken, violated, abandoned and supplanted with a model that has no basis in integrity, honor or dignity on behalf of our troops and their families. Yet our troops continue to honor their own integrity, honor and dignity, despite the lack of reciprical respect from this administration.
Lietta D. Ruger, military family