Knight Ridder Newspapers
May. 28, 2006 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - When Army Reserve Capt. Bradley Schwan, 30, sought to resign his commission last year, he thought that getting out of the Army would just be a matter of filing his paperwork.
The West Point graduate had served six years on active duty and two in the reserves. His eight-year service obligation was over. He was ready to move on to a law career.
But the Army had other ideas. In July, two months after he was eligible to leave the service, Army Reserve headquarters informed Schwan that his resignation request had been denied because the Army was short on officers.
"I'd heard rumors and inklings that they were looking at resignations and deciding whether they'd let people go," Schwan said. "But I thought, well, that can't be right. This is an unqualified resignation. And sure enough, it was denied. I filed a second resignation, but it was denied, too."
Stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is under pressure to retain qualified officers.
As the war in Iraq grows more unpopular, and with no end in sight in the war against al-Qaida, Schwan's case and others like it raise questions about the future of the all-volunteer Army and how well it can be sustained.
"You know, if they're going to ask people to serve involuntarily, then this isn't something they should ask only a very small segment of society to do," Schwan said. "We're either an all-volunteer force or a conscription force. You can't really have it both ways."
Schwan argues that by refusing to let him leave the service, the Army is resorting to what amounts to a "back-door" draft.
Federal law requires service members to serve eight years in their initial term. This is usually done by a combination of time on active duty and in the reserves.
Schwan, who lives in Simi Valley, Calif., filed a lawsuit to force the Army to let him go. It alleges breach of contract and fraud. The suit is pending in a Los Angeles federal court.
"The Army Reserve is facing a critical shortage of officers and the retention of every soldier is important to our mission to safeguard the United States," Col. Wanda Good, an Army personnel officer, said in a letter in July.
Lt. Gen. James Helmly, then-chief of the Army Reserve, informed commanders in policy memos in 2004 and 2005 that resignations would be decided case-by-case.
The Army Reserve's authorized manpower strength is 205,000, but its actual strength is around 185,000, according to Pentagon statistics.
Reserve officers can resign if their career fields are at least at 80 percent strength, or if they served in Iraq, Afghanistan or in a domestic security mission since the 2001 terror attacks, or if they had personal hardships, Helmly wrote.
Schwan served in Bosnia, but not Iraq, Afghanistan or homeland defense. What's more, he's in military intelligence, a field the Army says is below 80 percent strength.
Officers who have completed eight years of service and aren't in a Reserve unit can resign as long as they haven't received mobilization orders, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.