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Two sides to contract interpretation

Letter to the Editor | Friday, March 31, 2006

Regarding the letter, “U.S. Army doesn’t honor ROTC contract,” by Jonathan E. O’Reilly (March 28), I feel it is important to see the other side of the issue.

I was in Army ROTC at Notre Dame from 1989-1993. My contract for service with the U.S. Army required eight years of service, and I served four years on active duty and another four in the “inactive reserves,” where I served with no unit and did not participate in any military activities.

However, the total length of service for my contract was “indefinite,” meaning that, unless I resigned my commission after completing my obligatory eight years, I was subject to recall into either the active reserves or active duty. I could request resignation once my eight-year commitment was satisfied. I did resign at this point, and it was accepted.

However, officers who have completed their obligation are not guaranteed that their resignations will be accepted, especially in a time of war. If their military specialty or rank is in short supply, it is possible that their resignation will not be accepted (a situation referred to as a “stop-loss”). In short, the ability to resign is subject to the needs of the Army, even if one’s contractual obligation for minimum service has been met.

So, a critical distinction must be made between the minimum length of service a cadet must serve in return for a scholarship (eight years) and maximum length of service (indefinite unless a resignation is accepted) the Army may require by the contract signed by ROTC cadets.

I cannot speak to O’Reilly’s specific circumstances, such as his military specialty and whether there is a “stop-loss” for that specialty, but I can tell you that, though four people might have been able to sue their way toward an honorable discharge, I know of others in similar situations who have accepted the “call-up” and fulfilled their duties as best as they could, despite the hardships. They didn’t see it as a breach of contract on the part of the Army, but rather a case of the Army’s exercising an authority the contract allows it to exercise.

Incidentally, this is also true of officers who enter the Regular Army and serve their entire careers on active duty. Once an officer is Regular Army, he or she has an indefinite obligation, unless he or she resigns the commission or retires. It’s not just an issue with Reserve commissions.

The key here is that anyone signing a contract needs to be very clear about what that contract requires – not just the minimum requirement, but also the maximum – especially when it comes to the military.

Kris HullalumnusClass of 1993March 28