Tuesday, April 8, 2008

THE BACKDOOR DRAFT

JOSHUA FRANK, ANTI-WAR "There sure as hell is a draft going on," the passenger sitting next to me said grudgingly as the flight attendant handed him a ginger ale on our way into Los Angeles last week. "I signed up to be in the Navy, not the damn Army."

It will be his third deployment to Iraq in four years but his first to be served on shore. Thousands of Navy and Air Force personnel are now serving nontraditional roles in Iraq – posts they never signed up for. Steven, who asked that I not use his last name in print, said he's to receive six weeks of weapons training at a California Army base before being flown over to Iraq for a year-long deployment.

"We've all heard of the stop-loss policy, there's even a new movie about it, but few know about what else is happening in our armed forces right now," Steven explained. "The backdoor draft is real, for sure, but here we are being shipped off to Iraq to basically serve in the infantry. It's ridiculous."

The Department of Defense reports that sailors and Air Force members are carrying out many different missions in Iraq, from traditional duties in the air and sea to construction jobs, medical operations, civil affairs, customs inspection, security, and detention operations. Most are promised non-combat roles in Iraq, but many have found themselves to be in harm's way once they arrive.

In 2007 the Navy sent roughly 2,200 "individual augmentees," as the service calls them, to handle combat-related duties with Marine and Army units stationed in Iraq. . .

"Technically, these combat-related assignments do not violate service members' contracts," said Lawrence Korb, who handled manpower as assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. "But many … are not volunteering for these jobs - they're being told to do them."