It Is Like Being In Limbo

by James Glaser
June 10, 2003

The War on terrorism could last for years. What happens to a soldier when they tell him he is in for the duration? In World War II, it was "The duration of the war plus six months." Many veterans of that war will tell you that was the hardest part, not knowing when you would go home.

In Vietnam, soldiers knew that one year from the date of entry into the war zone, they would be heading home. For Marines it was thirteen months. Every trooper knew the number of days left "in country."

In a bit of American history written by Bob Sullivan, called "The Day the Rebels Rebelled," American troops stationed at Morristown, New Jersey in 1781, found out they were in the War of Independence for the duration. Unlike most troops whose enlistment ended on January 1, after three years of service. These troops enlistment form stated their service period was, "during the war."

On the first of January, 1781, these troops from Pennsylvania refused to muster and instead, they assembled on their own and began to march to Philadelphia to take their grievances to Congress. The Rebels had rebelled.

As our nation started out we had an all volunteer army, two hundred and twenty seven years later, our current armed forces are again all volunteers. Now American troops do not sign up for the duration, but there is something called, "Stop-loss."

Stop-loss is the modern way of keeping troop strength high.

Those that were scheduled to retire or had reached the end of their active duty enlistment were not allowed to end there military duty. There are some exceptions, but the vast majority of service personnel have had their enlistment extended for at least a year.

Our troops that are now in Iraq were under the impression that they would be there for the war and then be rotated home. The rush to Baghdad was made by men and women that knew the sooner they defeated Saddam, the sooner they would get to go home. That didn't happen.

Now in the heat of the Iraqi summer there are tens of thousands of American troops that have no idea of when they might get to return to their loved ones. These troops watch as some units have gone home, their families write about thousands of sailors returning with their ships and ask, "when will you be back?"

Some of these troops have been in the Gulf since before January and one could say that is only six months, but with an unknown return date, stress on the troops rises every day. These troops know that they will not be going home until Iraq is stable and combat troops are no longer needed. With a soldier getting killed almost every day and daily attacks on American troops being made all over the country, that day they will go home seems distant.

With American troops spread thin all over the world, there are less combat troops that can be rotated to Iraq to get these battle veterans home. These young Americans in Iraq hear the talk of going to Iran or maybe Syria. They know we need troops ready to take on North Korea and those enlisted personal in the higher pay grades can tell stories about being stationed in countries the younger men and women never even heard about.

These troops know more troops are needed now to restore peace to Iraq and they also know if more troops are added their chances of going home anytime soon suffer.

It won't be long and these Soldiers and Marines will know what it was like for their grandfathers, living through the limbo of a World War II enlistment.

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