Army denies threatening soldiers on re-enlisting

/ Source: The Associated Press

Some soldiers have misinterpreted a new Army effort to encourage re-enlistment as a threat to send them to Iraq if they don’t re-up, Army officials said Wednesday.

According to newspaper reports, soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were told they faced reassignment to units expected to be deployed to Iraq or Korea if they did not re-enlist by the end of the month or extend their duty until the end of 2007.

Those who re-enlisted or extended would stay with the 3rd Brigade, which already has been deployed for a year in Iraq.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., has demanded an investigation, but Army officials at Fort Carson, which claims the highest re-enlistment rate in the nation, deny the allegations.

“It’s just not being done,” post spokesman Lt. Col. David Johnson said. “We are a professional army. We want soldiers who want to be in the Army.”

Lt. Col. Theresa Lever said the 3rd Brigade Combat Team is taking part in a plan to stabilize units by allowing soldiers to request to stay at the same post after their enlistment is up. The Army previously discouraged this practice, called homesteading.

As part of the change, soldiers were being asked to state whether they wanted to remain with the unit, stay in the Army somewhere else, or leave when their tours were up.

Some soldiers mistakenly took this to mean they should re-up or risk going to Iraq, Lever said.

Somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the 4,000-member combat team at Fort Carson are near the end of their enlistments, and 850 have re-enlisted, Lever said. She said she did not know how many soldiers declined to re-enlist.

Appeals for short-timers
Lever said any soldier with less than 12 months to go would be able to appeal to upper echelons before being sent to Iraq, and that it would be out of the ordinary to send such a soldier.

Post officials said they had asked soldiers to volunteer to talk to reporters about the issue at a briefing Wednesday, but only one came. Spc. Benny Budano, 29, said he had not been threatened.

“I don’t mind being deployed,” Budano said, adding that he had re-enlisted of “my own free will.”

Fort Carson has about 14,000 soldiers in several units. About 12,000 soldiers returned from duty in Iraq this year to the post, and about 7,000 are expected to return for a second tour within the next few months.