August 22, 2005
Peace Corps, military link worries former members
By Vince Crawley
Times staff writer
Former Peace Corps members remain concerned about a new military enlistment option that allows national service — including as a Peace Corps volunteer — to count toward an individual’s eight-year total military commitment.
More than 4,300 service members have signed up for 15-month enlistments under the National Call to Service program, created in December 2002 and aimed at attracting motivated young Americans who might not enlist for longer terms.
The services limit the military specialties that qualify for the 15-month enlistments. Participants receive a $5,000 bonus after completing active duty, qualify for a monthly education allowance of $408 to $816 for 12 to 36 months, and can have up to $18,000 in student loans repaid.
The Navy has most fully embraced the new program, signing up nearly 3,000 sailors for 15-month stints since October 2003. The Marine Corps has signed up about 300 recruits.
Under the program, troops complete military training, then serve 15 months of active duty followed by 24 months in drilling status in a reserve unit.
However, current law requires a total eight-year commitment — active or inactive reserve — of anyone who joins the armed forces. So, following two years as drilling reservists, program participants still would be committed to serving about four more years in the inactive Individual Ready Reserve.
The program recently caught the attention of Peace Corps advocates because a provision allows other forms of national service — such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps — to count toward that remaining four years of inactive IRR time.
It is unclear if any participants would join the Peace Corps following their military stint. No one in the program would be eligible to apply until at least 2007, and participation in the National Call to Service program provides no advantage in the highly competitive Peace Corps application process.
Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association, has concerns about perceived links between military service and the Peace Corps, though he said several thousand military veterans have served as Peace Corps volunteers, either after completing their military obligations or by having those obligations waived.
“There are a not-insignificant number of people who’ve done both,” Quigley said in an interview.
But since its founding in the 1960s, he said, the Peace Corps has guarded its independence, partly to help assure the safety of volunteers, who typically serve in small numbers doing humanitarian work in remote overseas locations.
“We think that a real or perceived linkage between Peace Corps service and fulfillment of a U.S. military obligation could damage the Peace Corps program and potentially put the safety of Peace Corps volunteers at risk,” Quigley wrote in a July 7 letter to Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez.
The services have been signing up 15-month recruits since Oct. 1, 2003, based on a provision in the fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Act, but most in the Peace Corps community were unaware of the change in law until the Army issued a press release in May.
In a July 21 letter responding to Quigley, Vasquez wrote that he believes the National Call to Service program will not have a negative effect on the Peace Corps.
“The Peace Corps has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are retired military or on IRR status while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer,” Vasquez wrote.
An average of about two inactive reservists per month complete the application process and are invited to serve as Peace Corps volunteers, Vasquez wrote.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said participants in the National Call to Service program would not be mobilized while serving in the Peace Corps.
“You are not subject to call-up once you join the Peace Corps,” Krenke said. “At that point, you will be in the standby reserve.”
Quigley said about 210,000 Americans are former Peace Corps volunteers or employees. He estimated 4,000 to 5,000 of those people also are veterans.
“It is important to stress that the Peace Corps Association honors those who serve America in the U.S. [military],” Quigley said. “Our opposition to linkage between Peace Corps and U.S. military service is in no way intended to denigrate U.S. military service.”
Peace Corps service keeps ya from having a Clearance IIRC