October 4, 2004 in Nation/World

Soldiers claim Army tries to coerce them

David Kelly Los Angeles Times
 
File/Associated Press photo

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., flanked by Vietnam veterans Ron Cole and Marty Coleman, speaks out in September about allegations that Fort Carson soldiers were being coerced with Iraq deployments if they did not re-enlist.
(Full-size photo)

FORT CARSON, Colo. – A number of soldiers at this Army base near Colorado Springs say they are being pressured to re-enlist or be sent to Iraq.

The allegations, which the Army denies, have sparked calls for a congressional investigation and left the military scrambling to fend off accusations that it is trying to make up for troop shortages through coercion.

“Soldiers are being told if they don’t re-enlist, they will be reassigned to divisions going to Iraq,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., whose office has received numerous calls from worried soldiers and their families. “This is just wrong. It’s not the way we do things in this country.”

The lawmaker said she also has been contacted by soldiers stationed at Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Lewis in Washington expressing similar concerns. Officials at both bases said they have no reports of such complaints.

DeGette has asked the House Armed Services Committee to look into the matter.

At Fort Carson, soldiers about midway through their tours of duty were asked to sign forms indicating whether they plan to re-enlist. Soldiers said those who didn’t sign were told they could be transferred to where they are needed most – and many believed that meant Iraq. Those who re-enlisted would stay with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which might not be deployed.

Lt. Col. Gerard Healy, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said it would be highly unusual for the Army to try to coerce people into staying. He said that is something he would not condone.

“I think the problem is that some folks don’t understand the situation,” Healy said.

A soldier who recently returned from Iraq took issue with that.

“I didn’t misunderstand anything,” said the Fort Carson sergeant who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was as blatant as you can get without a direct threat. They said if we didn’t re-enlist, we would be put in a pool of soldiers who would be deployed to Iraq.” Military leaders said they never can guarantee who will be deployed, but those with a year or less left on their tour of duty are likely to stay put.

“It’s Army policy not to move peo-ple with less than 12 months because it’s not cost-effective,” said Lt. Col. Theresa Lever, who heads the personnel office at Fort Carson. “If they are to be deployed, they will be reviewed on a name-by-name, case-by-case basis.”


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