Is signing up for the military a legal "contract."
January 13, 2007 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Is signing up for the military a legal "contract."

If you sign up for the US military is it a legal contract? If it is not a contract, what is it? I want to know why they can change the conditions mid-stream.

For example, if I understand it correctly, reservists were promised a two year limit to their service which has now been changed to "unlimited."

Are there any anti-war or civil rights groups focused on the specific problem of the ever changing contract between a soldier and government and how the government seems to be able to change it at anytime?

How is this issue handled in other countries? If you sign up for the military in England does the government have to abide by your signed contract or can they change it at anytime?
posted by 9000.68 to Law & Government (21 answers total)
I don't know about England. But here you can be extended beyond your agreement at the convenience of the government. I was 'extended' for a year beyond my enlistment. Boils down to "they need you" and their need comes before yours.
posted by JayRwv at 5:33 PM on January 13, 2007

I'd be willing to bet the contract has a clause buried in it saying, say, "Army reserves the right to change the terms of clauses XYZ at its own discretion".
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:33 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My son is in the military and he and his friends try to figure this out on their own. There are all kinds of rumors about what rights they have. So I would like to be able to advise him.

I think that if you sign a contract with the military they should have to stick to it. If you sign up for two years active duty the government shouldn't be able to change that.

If that's not the case, and I don't think it is, I would like to work to pass laws making it so. I would like to know if anyone is working on this.

I don't see how that is chat. People are either working on this or they aren't. Yes or no.
posted by 9000.68 at 5:34 PM on January 13, 2007

Here's the standard enlistment contract. Note that section 9(b) specifically warns the enlistee that all provisions are subject to change at any time with no notice required.
posted by backupjesus at 5:38 PM on January 13, 2007

Response by poster: (I meant I'd like to be able to advise my son where to find answers about this specific question, not that I think I can be his lawyer.)
posted by 9000.68 at 5:39 PM on January 13, 2007

When you sign up for the military, you sign up for (at least) eight years. Even if you sign up for two years, you sign up for eight years. The trick is, you're only active duty for two years. The rest of the eight is inactive reserve. Normally, that's the same as not being in the military. However, the government reserves the right to call up the inactive reserve, or to delay your transfer to the inactive reserve.

If you have served your eight years already, I think they can still keep you for a while, but there are stiff requirements on how they have to compensate you, so it's not normally done.
posted by ctmf at 5:45 PM on January 13, 2007

Military contracts aren't like other contracts. Although is redirecting the link above based on the referer headers, you can find the contract elsewhere.

Anyone on active duty or in the active reserves can be required to serve on active duty until six months after a war or national emergency is over. Since Bush is fighting a War on Terror, which he has stated is indefinite and permanent, enlisting is a lifetime contract at this point, since the war or national emergency will never be over, especially once the attack on Iran is launched. Someone enlisting today for a standard eight-year contract could be released from service in 2057 (will "Terror" still be around in 2057? yes.), and no law or contract provision would have been broken.

In recent years, to try not to screw the reservists and National Guard too badly, the military has tried to promise them it wouldn't drag them into active duty for more than two years. But that isn't anywhere in any contract - it's just something the military tried to do to so that they'd be able to keep up recruitment. So now they're scrapping that promise. Eh.
posted by jellicle at 5:57 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

see also Individual Ready Reserve and Stop-loss Policy on Wikipedia, and the references section of DoD Directive 1235.13.
posted by ctmf at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2007

Section 10(a): FOR ALL ENLISTEES: If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component unless I am sooner discharged.

Section 10(b) If I am a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force at the beginning of a period of war or national emergency declared by Congress, or if I become a member during that period, my military service may be extended without my consent until six (6) months after the end of that period of war.

So you could advise your son that the place where he can find answers to this specific question is in the contract that he signed, and no, ignorance of the terms of the contract does not absolve him of having to follow those terms.

Yes, recruiters lie. Yes, it sucks. Unfortunately, he signed the contract and now he's stuck with it.
posted by stefanie at 6:27 PM on January 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

I think I understand now that the amount of time that you serve, regardless of anything you sign, is a policy of the Army.

How can a military policy be changed? Could I lobby Congress to make an amendment to the Constitution that this specific policy could never be changed mid-stream if someone signed a contract? And that no president could change it?

I see people have tried to individually sue the Army, but that's just for that one person. I'd like to see the policy changed for everyone.

(I'm just trying to imagine the US stop loss policy in the big picture of history, it just seems so wrong to me, I can't imagine that's a way to manage an army.) It doesn't seem to me that a Roman emperor could have gotten away with something like this. My impression of Roman times are that you had very strict agreements with your soldiers. And it may have been as bad as "you will only receive one meal a day." Harsh, but soldiers knew what they were getting into. And could have faith that the Emperor would stick to his word.

I'm not trying to get my son out of his contract, stefanie, I think it should be changed for future recruits.
posted by 9000.68 at 7:01 PM on January 13, 2007

Response by poster: I can see now from the Wikipedia link that I'm talking about an Act of Congress that lets the President change the policies of the Army.
posted by 9000.68 at 7:30 PM on January 13, 2007

Something in the back of my head tells me that for some technical legal reason(s), we are always in a state of emergency. I remember reading something about it years ago that seemed well documented (ie not a conspiracy theory). Anyone care to comment on that?
posted by bh at 7:48 PM on January 13, 2007

Also, 10 USC 506.
posted by ctmf at 7:52 PM on January 13, 2007

Doesn't it cease to be a state of emergency if that's the baseline? Whatever. 9000.68, I imagine your senator or representative might be able to answer your questions. Though my own experience has been that my reps are very responsive to minor requests that allow them to strike fear into the hearts of low level local officials and say meh to any sort of real change.
posted by maxwelton at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2007

The way out of Baghdad isn't through changing military contracts and administrative policy, it's through impeachment of the current President, and if necessary, the rapid follow on impeachment of his Vice-Presidential successor as a co-conspirator. The heart that is two heartbeats from the Presidency now belongs to a Democratic mother. The process of impeachment beginning with articles drawn by individual citizens is clear, and completely Constitutional (if unprecedented), and flows directly from the hand of a skeptical Founder (Jefferson's Manual).

If your quest is to find clear individual actions to recommend and to perform, start here.
posted by paulsc at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2007

Doesn't it cease to be a state of emergency if that's the baseline

You're talking about the administration that has held the Terror alert at level yellow above since it's inception.

- Days the color-coded federal terror alert system has been in place: 1,754

- Days spent at terror alert level Blue or Green: 0
posted by chrisamiller at 8:48 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I sympathize with soldiers who've been called up repeatedly, and I don't think the current use of the Reserves/NG is sustainable. But it's beyond implausible that the IRR/Stop-Loss policy will ever be changed. First of all, imagine if there were a *real* emergency, like the US were attacked (I don't mean by 19 suicide hijackers, but a national military force) - wouldn't the policy make more sense in that case?
Second, the US has had an all-volunteer force since 1973. Everyone in the military has enlisted of his/her own free will, knowing that they have an extended reserve commitment. The 8-year enlistment contract for volunteers means your (and my) sons and daughters won't get drafted.
To change this in a radical way, there would have to be universal conscription, and that is not going to happen, in spite of the rumours floating around recently. It costs too much to train soldiers these days, and military technology is too *complex* for the draft to be worthwhile. Not to mention the political consequences.
So we're stuck with the way things are. It's been that way for a long time. Until recently it wasn't a problem. But be careful what you wish for; the alternatives might be worse.
posted by annabkr at 5:27 AM on January 14, 2007

Those with family members in the Military who are concerned about how they are being treated, the war in Iraq, or other related issues may find it useful to join Military Families Speak Out for support and advice. In addition to the national organization (linked to here), there are local and state chapters, you'll find the list at the national site.
posted by HuronBob at 6:48 AM on January 14, 2007

when you are the law there is no law. I don't care what is promised or put in writing. DON"T TRUST ANY of it. God bless your son, I hope he gets out safely and soon.
posted by Lylo at 12:51 AM on January 15, 2007

as other commenters have noted, every contract is actually an 8-year contract. the enlistee serves some portion on active duty, some on active reserves and some on inactive reserve. during the latter two portions they can be extended or recalled to active duty at the convenience of the government.

most recruiters explain this; certainly it is in the text of the contract.

the bottom line is, if someone signs the contract they are bound by it. if someone signed without reading the contract carefully or didn't consult with anyone about the details that is regrettable but hardly the fault of anyone else.
posted by jjsonp at 7:00 AM on January 15, 2007

I was at a 9th-circuit court of appeals hearing in Seattle where the government succeeded in arguing that the stop-loss policy means that a National Guard member's obligation to the military is without end. Emiliano Santiago served his 8-year contract; a few months later his unit was deployed to Afghanistan, and Santiago along with it; the government decided to arbitrarily extend his service to 2031 (the date picked as a matter of administrative convenience). A few days after he lost his case in the appeals court, he was shipped out to Afghanistan. Don't know what's happened to him since.
posted by msbrauer at 6:47 PM on January 18, 2007

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