to get her son back safely
Circleville, NY – The men in Jodie Knibbs' family have shed blood in every American conflict since World War II. Her uncle fought the Japanese in Okinawa and was wounded in combat. Another uncle was killed in action in Vietnam at the age of 18.
So when her son, William, joined the Army four years ago – while he was still in high school – she understood his decision, even if she didn't support it.
Then the world changed – dramatically. Terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The United States invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban. A year later, war was under way in Iraq.
Pvt. Knibbs, 22, a communications specialist with the 141st Signal Battalion, 1st Armored Division, fought his way to Baghdad with the invading forces. It was supposed to be a six-month tour of duty, but the Army extended his time "in country" to 15 months.
Now stationed in Germany, Knibbs expected to be discharged this summer. He had done his time and wanted to move on with his life.
But two weeks ago, the Minisink High grad learned that the Army was keeping him on under the "stop-loss" rule, and that his unit was heading back to Iraq for a yearlong tour of duty.
He should be coming home
His mother was enraged. William was a combat veteran. He was supposed to be coming home.
"It's not fair," Knibbs says, sitting in the kitchen of her Circleville home, going through a box of photographs her son sent home from a military base in Baghdad. William's sisters, 24-year-old Shana and 13-year-old Kathryn, miss him, Knibbs said.
"My son has served his country proudly," she said. "He should be coming home."
Under the Army's "stop-loss" program, about 14,000 soldiers have been prevented from retiring or leaving the military and redeployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The purpose of the program is to prevent military units from losing much-needed combat skills. Critics call it a backdoor form of the draft.
Some military families argue that the policy is unfair, especially because several soldiers who had already served their time have been killed while serving the extended duty.
Knibbs is taking her fight to Washington, D.C. She has started a letter-writing campaign to lawmakers, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam veteran and critic of the stop-loss program.
She doesn't know if the effort will be successful. She just knows that she had to do something – anything.
'I'm fighting for my son's life'
"I told myself, I have two choices. I could sit down and cry about it or I could fight," Knibbs said. "The way I see it, I'm fighting for my son's life. That's the job of a mother."
Some soldiers have challenged the stop-loss rule, arguing it's a breach of contract.
In Oregon, Emiliano Santiago, 27, sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he received orders to go to Afghanistan after completing an eight-year stint with the Oregon National Guard. A federal judge in Portland ruled in favor of the U.S. government.
An Army spokeswoman said all enlistment contracts contain fine print mentioning the possibility that military service may be extended under some circumstances.
"We are a nation at war," said Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman. "The bottom line is that stop-loss is about effective units."
The authority to issue stop-loss orders was first granted after the Vietnam War, but it wasn't used until the buildup to the Persian Gulf War in 1990.
For the military – which is suffering from troop shortages amid dwindling recruitment levels – keeping personnel in uniform is a necessity.
Hinchey called the stop-loss rule a "backdoor draft" that is placing an unfair burden on the families of military members.
"This is an authority that was given to the president to be exercised only when the nation was in dire or desperate circumstances," he said. "We are not a nation at war. There has been no declaration of war. We don't have a national emergency."
Knibbs doesn't know about troop shortages or wartime strategies. For her, it's a matter of fairness: Her son served his country and should come home, period.
"I want my son back home, where he belongs," she said.
By Christian M. Wade April 14, 2005
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