updated 8/17/2004 10:17:59 PM ET 2004-08-18T02:17:59

A California Army National Guard soldier sued the military in federal court Tuesday over a program that could keep up to 20,000 Army personnel beyond their time of service.

It was the first lawsuit challenging extended military service following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The program, known as “stop-loss,” also was enacted during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War.

The soldier’s complaint comes as the Army struggles to find fresh units to serve in Iraq. Almost every combat unit has faced or will face duty there or in Afghanistan, and increased violence has forced the deployment of an additional 20,000 troops to the Iraq region.

The Army says its stop-loss program is necessary for a cohesive military with seasoned personnel, although it has been criticized as contrary to the concept of an all-volunteer military force.

The soldier’s attorneys did not release his name, age or hometown to protect his family’s privacy.

“It’s not that John Doe is a coward by any means,” said the sergeant’s San Francisco attorney, Michael Sorgen. He said his client, who was also ordered to stay in Iraq last year beyond his enlisted commitment, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and his deployment has been put on hold.

10 years of previous service
According to the lawsuit, the soldier has more than a decade of service with the Marines, including combat in Iraq and Somalia. Last year, after returning from Iraq, he agreed to resign with a one-year commitment to the National Guard.

But he recently was notified that his service had been extended by as much as two years, and that he could soon be heading to Iraq for another combat tour, according to court documents.

Sorgen said the soldier could be involuntarily retained in the military during a time of war or national emergency, but “Congress has not declared war or a national emergency.”

The lawsuit notes the Sept. 11 commission’s report said there was no “collaborative operational relationship” between terrorists and Iraq plotting attacks against the United States.

Lt. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman, said stop-loss is vital for a strong military.

“When soldiers consider serving next to one that they’ve known, they know the person’s strengths,” she said. “It’s much safer and comforting to know you are serving a war with someone you can count on.”

No court date has been set.

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