Modern war is a "come as you are" affair, and you are either ready when it goes down or you are not. There no longer any prep time before such things start in earnest. Thus, truly prepared military forces are top-heavy with the skilled individuals that cannot be quickly trained up. As a result, such individuals as pilots, special forces commandos, officers, doctors and other specialists are made to sign contracts agreeing to be able to be recalled to service even after being leaving the military. For instance, officers have contracts of 30 years. If an officer retires after 20 years of service, they are still able to be recalled up to 10 years after that date.
And while all U.S. Army pilots are officers (yes, warrant officers are also included in the contractual recall status), they are uniquely irreplaceable in a pinch because of how long it takes to train pilots. Even if you were to recall former Army pilots into service in a war emergency, it takes critical time to get them separated from their current civilian employ, outfitted and assigned to an operational unit, checked out and updated on currently fielded craft, and familiarized with current deployment operations and staff. Thus,...if there might be a potential hot spot or conflict on the horizon, you might wish to prevent pending separation from the service of pilots who are scheduled to leave soon.
And so it is that we now read that the Army's aviation wing has quietly and stealthily decided to administratively extend the active duty of many of its pilots by 3 years.
What could be on the horizon within 3 years that would have the Pentagon making such waves? Hmmmmmmmm.
Hundreds of Army aviation officers who were set to leave the military are being held to another three years of service after they say the branch quietly reinterpreted part of their contract amid retention and recruitment issues.
The shift has sparked an uproar among the more than 600 affected active-duty commissioned officers, including some who say their plans to start families, launch businesses and begin their civilian lives have been suddenly derailed.
"We are now completely in limbo," said a captain who had scheduled his wedding around thinking he would be leaving the military this spring.
That captain and three other active-duty aviation officers who spoke to NBC News spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
As part of a program known as BRADSO, cadets commissioning from the U.S. Military Academy or Army Cadet Command from 2008 and 2020 were able to request a branch of their choice, including aviation, by agreeing to serve an additional three years on active duty.
For years, the Army allowed some aviation officers to serve those three years concurrently, and not consecutively, along with their roughly contracted seven or eight years of service.
In a phone call with reporters Thursday, Army officials admitted "errors" in the system, which they noticed a few months ago, led to the discrepancy.
"We are fixing those errors, and we are in communication with the unit leadership and impacted officers," said Lt. Gen. Douglas Stitt, deputy chief of staff of G-1, which is in charge of policy and personnel.
"Our overall goal to correct this issue is to provide predictability and stability for our soldiers while maintaining readiness across our force," Stitt added.
In letters the Army sent this month to the affected aviators as well as to members of Congress, which were obtained by NBC News, it said it "realized" after conducting a "legal review of this policy" that the three-year BRADSO requirement has to be served separately.
"This is not a new policy, but we are correcting oversights in recordkeeping that led some officers with an applied BRADSO to separate from the U.S. Army before they were eligible," the letter said.
Thursday's media roundtable came after more than 140 aviation officers banded together to demand answers after learning one by one that they were being denied discharges due to outstanding BRADSO obligations beginning last fall.
More than 60 of them signed a letter to Congress outlining how they had been misled by the Army for years about the exact length of their service contract.
"It has been this unanimous uprising of emotions and frustrations," said another Army aviation captain, who is newly married and wanted to begin having children.
He called the reversal of a precedent an "injustice" to an already burnt-out department still regularly deployed despite the end of the longest war in American history.
"Yeah, the war on Afghanistan ended. There's still a high demand for Army aviation," he said, while en route to another deployment. "We have units still in constant training or deployment rotations. They're failing to recognize the human aspect."
The newlywed said it has been difficult for him and his wife to accept a three-year delay in starting a family.
"That was the big kick in the gonads," he said. "We wanted to start having kids, and we no longer can. It's a stressor we didn't plan to deal with."
Documents obtained by NBC News show officers were given conflicting information about their service obligations.