WASHINGTON – Eight soldiers are challenging the Army's policy requiring them to serve longer than the terms of their enlistment contracts.
In a lawsuit being filed Monday in federal court, the soldiers are seeking a judge's order requiring the Army to immediately release them from service.
"The Army made an agreement with me and I expected them to honor it," said David Qualls, one of the plaintiffs. He signed up in July 2003 for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard (search) but has been told he will remain on active duty in Iraq until next year.
Under the Pentagon's "stop-loss" program (search), the Army can extend enlistments during war or national emergencies as a way to promote continuity and cohesiveness.
The policy, invoked in June, could keep tens of thousands of personnel in the military beyond their expected departure. The policy was also used during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War.
The lawsuit contends the policy is a breach of the service contract because it extends the length of service without a soldier's consent. It also alleges the contracts were misleading because they make no reference to the policy, said Staughton Lynd, an attorney for the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said he could not respond to the lawsuit until it was filed but defended the policy as necessary to maintain cohesive units in the war on terror.
"The alternative is people start leaving that unit in the middle of a tour," he said.
Qualls, the only named plaintiff in the case, is home on leave. The other seven, listed as John Does to protect their privacy, are now serving in Iraq or are in Kuwait en route to Iraq, Lynd said.
Qualls and two other plaintiffs enlisted under one-year "Try One" contracts that have expired. Four others are serving under multiyear contracts that also have run out.
The remaining soldier's contract doesn't expire until spring, but he has been told to expect to serve in Iraq beyond the expiration date.
The lawsuit names Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) and with other Army officials.