Seth Manzel and Andrew VanDenBergh, GI Voice. Updated May 13, 2009

Iraq Veterans rallied directly outside Fort Lewis in Washington State on Saturday, May 9 to oppose the Stop-Loss policy of recalling soldiers for repeated overseas deployments (photo right: Sigrid Knutson). Fort Lewis, the largest Army base on the West Coast, will deploy three infantry brigades to Iraq and Afghanistan over the next four months. Of the 10,000 soldiers previously deployed, some have been involuntarily stop-lossed.

Seth Manzel, a Stryker Brigade veteran and director of GI Voice, said; “we will assemble with soldier’s families…to rally against the systematic mistreatment of soldiers…which maintains Stop-Loss as a backdoor draft.” GI Voice opened Coffee Strong in November, as a safe place for soldiers, veterans and their families to discuss GI rights information.

Soldiers who signed the service contract for a specific number of years believe they are headed home, only to find they are involuntarily extended for an additional year or more. About 58,300 servicemembers were stop-lossed between 2002 and 2007 (Los Angeles Times 5/9/08). Despite Defense Secretary Gates’ commitment to “all but end” the practice by 2011, 13,000 personnel are currently stop-lossed (New York Times 3/13/09). Manzel comments; “The [Stop-Loss] policy has been intensely unpopular with servicemembers and their families. Our military community shares a deepening concern as the Army continues to stress families to the breaking point.”

GI Voice board member Andrew VanDenBergh, a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, explains, “Given the fast pace of deployment, commanders often discourage servicemembers from seeking health care. Many are denied access to the mental and physical health care they desperately need, making the transition to family life more difficult. Some self-medicate (with predictable consequences), and some are sent back into combat completely untreated.”

According to the Department of Defense, one in three women is sexually assaulted in the course of their military careers, and the problem is underreported. Manzel explains, “If a victim reports the incident to anyone outside of her chain of command, the victimizer will be notified. This practice ensures that victims rarely speak out, protecting commanders and sexual predators from scrutiny.” Additionally, pregnant soldiers report that they will presently deploy only four months after giving birth, rather than the customary one-year maternity delay (Washington Post, 2/21/08). Coffee Strong assists soldiers with these grievances, which are increasingly common as upcoming deployments draw near.

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