GIs threatened by Army, re-inlist or else

Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit say they have been issued an ultimatum – re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq.

Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit say they have been issued an ultimatum – re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq.

Hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were presented with that message and a re-enlistment form in a series of assemblies last Thursday, said two soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The effort is part of a restructuring of the Army into smaller, more flexible forces that can deploy rapidly around the world.

A Fort Carson spokesman confirmed the re-enlistment drive is under way and one of the soldiers provided the form to the Rocky Mountain News. An Army spokesmen denied, however, that soldiers who don’t re-enlist with the brigade were threatened.

The form, if signed, would bind the soldier to the 3rd Brigade until Dec. 31, 2007. The two soldiers said they were told that those who did not sign would be transferred out of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

“They said if you refuse to re-enlist with the 3rd Brigade, we’ll send you down to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is going to Iraq for a year, and you can stay with them, or we’ll send you to Korea, or to Fort Riley (in Kansas) where they’re going to Iraq,” said one of the soldiers, a sergeant.

The second soldier, an enlisted man who was interviewed separately, essentially echoed that view.

“They told us if we don’t re-enlist, then we’d have to be reassigned. And where we’re most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months. So if you think you’re getting out, you’re not,” he said.

The brigade’s presentation outraged many soldiers who are close to fulfilling their obligation and are looking forward to civilian life, the sergeant said.

“We have a whole platoon who refuses to sign,” he said.

A Fort Carson spokesman said Wednesday that 3rd Brigade recruitment officers denied threatening the soldiers with Iraq duty.

“I can only tell you what the retention officers told us: The soldiers were not being told they will go to Iraq, but they may go to Iraq,” said the spokesman, who gave that explanation before being told later to direct all inquiries to the Pentagon.

Sending soldiers to Iraq with less than one year of their enlistment remaining “would not be taken lightly,” Lt. Col. Gerard Healy said from the Pentagon Wednesday.

“We realize that we deal with people and with families, and that’s got to be a factor,” he said.

“There’s probably a lot of places on post where they could put those folks (who don’t re-enlist) until their time expires. But I don’t want to rule out the possibility that they could go to a unit that might deploy,” said Healy.

Under current Army practice, members of Iraq-bound units are “stop-lossed,” meaning they could be retained in the unit for an entire year in Iraq, even if their active-duty enlistment expires.

A recruiter told the sergeant that the Army would keep them “as long as they needed us.”

Extending a soldier’s active duty is within Army authority, since the enlistment contract carries an eight-year obligation, even if a soldier signs for only three or four years of active duty.

The 3rd Brigade recruiting effort is part of the Army’s plan to restructure large divisions of more than 10,000 soldiers into smaller, more flexible, more numerous brigade- sized “Units of Action” of about 3,500 soldiers each.

The Army envisions building each unit into a cohesive whole and staffing them with soldiers who will stay with the unit for longer periods of time, said John Pike, head of the defense analysis think tank Global Security.

“They want these units to fight together and train together. They’re basically trying to keep these brigades together throughout training and deployment, so I can understand why they would want to shed anybody who was not going to be there for the whole cycle,” Pike said.

But some soldiers presented with the re-enlistment message last week believe they’ve already done their duty and should not be penalized for choosing to leave. They deployed to Iraq for a year with the 3rd Brigade last April.

“I don’t want to go back to Iraq,” said the sergeant. “I went through a lot of things for the Army that weren’t necessary and were risky. Iraq has changed a lot of people.’

The enlisted soldier said the recruiters’ message left him troubled, unable to sleep and “filled with dread.”

“For me, it wasn’t about going back to Iraq. It’s just the fact that I’m ready to get out of the Army,” he said.

WHAT THE FORM SAID

• “Elect not to extend or re-enlist and understand that the soldier will be reassigned IAW (in accordance with) the needs of the Army by Department of the Army HRC (Human Resources Command) . . . or Fort Carson G1 (Personnel Office).’

WHAT IT MEANS

• Soldiers who sign the letter are bound to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team until Dec. 31, 2007.

• Soldiers who do not sign the letter might be transferred out of the brigade and possibly to Iraq.

Author: Dick Foster

News Service: Rocky Mountain News

URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/state/article/0,1299,DRMN_21_3185596,00.html