UPDATED 10:38 p.m., March 27, 2008: I have removed the name of the soldier mentioned in the news article as he requested me to do so in the comments.

MSNBC: ‘Congratulations, son — I’m proud of you’ — Father in Iraq surprises, touches son by giving Guard oath via video link

This story concerns me on many levels, but I’m not going to talk about any of that. Instead I’m hoping and praying that either **** or one of his family members will google his name and find this post. I’m going to write the rest of this post as an open letter to ****, but it is really written for any 17 year old young man or women who might have second thoughts about joining but feel obligated because they took an oath.

****, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I have had the pleasure of knowing many young men and women who are your age, or a year or two older. The young men and women I have known are servicemembers who have called me (I’m an attorney who helps soldiers with military discharges) because they want to get out of the military.

I know you probably won’t believe me until you’re there, but the military is hard, hard place to be. You’re dad is an officer, but you will be enlisted, and believe me it sucks, bad. You will be treated like you are lower than pond scum by your drill sergeants and you have already been lied to by your recruiter and others.

But worst of all, you are signing up to participate in a war with no meaning and purpose. Even if you only serve stateside, you will still be participating in the machine and playing a part in a system that has over 4000 American GI’s so far, and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

I don’t say all of this to make you feel guilty, but I do want you to know all of the ramifications of your decision. If you decide to continue on and stay in the military, then do it, but do it in a thoughtful manner.

And if you change your mind, you can still change your mind. The news story doesn’t tell this, but I’m guessing that you are going into the split option program (where you go to basic training this summer, go back to high school for one more year, and then do you advanced training in the summer after that).

Under the regs, before you go to Basic training, you can request that your basic training seat be canceled, and the recruiting command HAS to honor your request. Here’s what the regs say… “(1) Enlisted members in the DTP status may request to have their training reservations canceled based on personal reasons or the unit may request that a soldier’s reservation be canceled.
See USAREC 601-95, section 3-3(a)(1) – PDF download

And if you do go to Basic training but decide to get out before advance training, you have the right to do that, and the military has to give you a discharge. see AR 630-10, section 5-2

I know you might feel guilty about “breaking your oath,” but you shouldn’t. You have a right under the law request a discharge under these circumstances. You did make a commitment to the military, but the military has an obligation to you as well. If you decide to go to college, get a job, or do something else besides joining the military, that is your right. Your life is precious and important. If you decide you don’t want to be in the military, know that you are not alone and that many would be there supporting you.

Best wishes,

P.S. If you need help with anything or have any questions about the procedures of seeking a discharge, contact the GI Rights Hotline. They are good folks who can help you work your way through the red tape.