GI Rights Hotline starting for Florida
Scott Camil
January/February 2004

Gainesville will become home to the North Central Florida G.I. Rights Hotline starting Jan 27th.

Last year, a group of local citizens who were concerned about the treatment of our troops came together and decided to do something about it. The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (known as CCCO ) sent 2 members to Gainesville to train a group of Floridians to become military counselors. The citizens' group was made up of volunteers from Veterans for Peace, The Gainesville Religious Society of Friends and The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville.

The G.I. Rights Hotline is a coalition of non-profit, non-governmental counseling agencies who provide information to members of the military about discharges, grievance and complaint procedures, and other civil rights issues. The hotline also assists service members who are AWOL/UA (Absent Without Leave/Unauthorized Absence) and provides information on mobilization and involuntary activation of reservists and national guard.

The G.I. Rights Hotline Network is composed of volunteers and attorneys who take calls from and provide information for service members in need. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of service members seeking help. In 1996, the hotline took 1859 calls. In 1998, it took 5187 calls. In the year 2000, there were over 15,000 calls and last year there were over 21,000 calls. Because of the increase in calls for help from service members, there became a need for more counselors.

Florida has a large contingent of military. Many of the calls that come from service members to the Hotline are from Florida. Gainesvillians have come to answer the call.

The United States, especially under the Bush administration, has become overextended in the use of our armed forces. In order to deal with this problem, the Bush administration has made extensive use of the reserves and national guard to shore up the shortfall of active duty troops. Many reservists and national guard members feel that the way they are being used is an abuse of the understanding that they had when they joined.

One of the tactics that these service members find especially unfair is the issuance of "stop loss orders." The president has signed stop loss orders that prevent service members from retiring at the end of their service obligation and from being discharged after they have fulfilled their enlistment obligations. Stop loss also extends the time that national guardsmen and reservists must serve beyond their enlistment contract. A recruiter was asked if he explains stop loss to the young people he was recruiting. He said, "Be real, being a recruiter is like being a salesman. I have a quota to fill and I am not going to fill that quota if I tell possible recruits the downside of the military."

Today 80% of all enlisted people in our military are recruited in the delayed enlistment program which operates in our high schools. So these salesman recruiters are accessing our children and using lies and half-truths to get them to enlist. When these kids find out that they signed the delayed enlistment program under false pretenses and want to help, we are there to help them get what they were promised or get out.

The army has made the claim that it does not stop loss active duty soldiers, but that is a half truth because the soldier is discharged into the Inactive Ready Reserves and then reactivated. Another problem service members are complaining about is the way that the reserves and the national guard have been mobilized beyond the limit of time agreed upon in their original contracts.

Some of the other problems that service members complain about are poor training and leadership that are responsible for 1/3 of the 500 deaths in Iraq being non-combatant deaths. Of that 1/3, 22 deaths are attributed to suicide. Service members are also suspicious that the use of depleted uranium shells and the untested concoction of medicines that the service members have been ordered to take are causing them illness and death. One local veteran of the Gulf War felt so strongly about this that she had two words, "Lab Rat," tattooed on her arm after becoming 100% disabled in Iraq.

If you are interested in helping out in any way or becoming a counselor, please call the G.I. Rights Hotline at 1-800-394-9544. Be all that you can be, Work for Peace.

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