Soldier fighting in Afghanistan fired by e-mail

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Britain's military has apologized for using e-mails to tell dozens of long-serving soldiers that they were being laid-off.

The army says an "administrative error" meant the soldiers were not told in person that their contracts would be ended.

British media reported that the soldiers were 38 warrant officers with more than 20 years' service each. that the group put in a total of 836 years' service and includes a member of the Royal Tank Regiment who is currently serving in Afghanistan.

"It was out of the blue. We're disgusted," another soldier, a veteran of five tours of duty in war zones, told the newspaper.

"Essentially 38 of us are 'sacked' having spent our lives in the military. It's not good — five tours of duty and sacked by e-mail," The Sun quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

"You will obviously feel concerned about your future but I have no other choice than to issue a Notice to Terminate," the message read, according to The Sun.  

The soldiers are on rolling contracts after completing 22 years of service, the newspaper noted. The e-mails gave the soldiers 12 months' notice. The Ministry of Defense said they will receive help in training for civilian life.

'Absolutely unforgivable'"We apologize for the distress that this will have caused," an army spokesman said in an e-mail.

"Commanding officers have now spoken to the soldiers concerned to ensure that they receive all necessary advice and support."

Jim Murphy, the opposition Labour Party's defense spokesman, said the firings had been made in a "callous, cold-hearted, soulless way."

"This is no way to treat men and women who have served their country fearlessly for so many years," he told the BBC. "Sacking anyone by e-mail is wrong, sacking our armed forces in this way is absolutely unforgivable."

The Ministry of Defense's budget of 36.9 billion pounds ($59.1 billion) will be cut by eight percent in real terms over the next four years as the government reins in a record peacetime budget deficit of about 10 percent of national output.

Army personnel will be cut by around 7,000 to 95,000.

According to reports, up to 100 trainee pilots will be dismissed by the Royal Air Force as other services start to rein in costs.