Jonathan O'Reilly wasn't planning on a career in the military when, at age 18, he enlisted in the Army Reserve for eight years in exchange for an ROTC scholarship that paid most of his tuition at the University of Notre Dame.
But O'Reilly, who turns 32 this month, said top commanders have refused to let him leave the Reserve, even though he finished his service obligation in May 2004 and has repeatedly tried to resign.
The Army Reserve captain, who lives in Norton and is assigned to a Reserve unit in Providence, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Boston last week accusing the Army of breach of contract and involuntary servitude. The suit names Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military brass in both the Army and Army Reserve.
''I feel I've done everything I agreed to do for the Army, and I wish they would live up to their agreement with me and let me continue on with my life," said O'Reilly, who is a member of the Norton School Committee. All he wants from the lawsuit, he said, is an honorable discharge.
After eight years in the Reserve, including a weekend of service each month and about two additional weeks of training each year, O'Reilly said he submitted his first resignation letter in June 2004. It was rejected, according to the lawsuit, as were four subsequent resignation requests in 2004 and 2005.
O'Reilly said he was told initially that he didn't have a compelling enough reason for wanting to leave. Later he was told he couldn't resign because the Army was short on personnel with his skills as a captain and supply officer. One officer, according to O'Reilly, even suggested that the Reserve could extend his enlistment date to 2024, when O'Reilly will turn 50.
Steve Strumvall, a spokesman for the Army Reserve, said that he couldn't comment on O'Reilly's case, but that commissioned officers, including captains, are not automatically allowed to resign, even if they have met their eight-year service obligation.
The US Army Reserve, according to Strumvall, considers three factors when weighing a resignation request: personal hardship, previous deployments, and whether there's a shortage of people with the same specialty.
''If it was peacetime and we had plenty of people, then you wouldn't need criteria like previous deployment and shortage of specialties," Strumvall said. ''It wouldn't matter as much. But it matters now. . . . You have to have some criteria to judge these by, and these are the criteria we use right now."
Strumvall said the Army Reserve has no policy of rejecting resignations from Reserve members, like O'Reilly, who have never been called to active duty. However, he said that whether a reserve officer has been deployed is only one criterion taken into consideration.
Norton lawyer Daniel M. Rich, who filed the suit on O'Reilly's behalf, said the case really comes down to a contract dispute over whether the Reserve can force O'Reilly to continue serving, well after he fulfilled all his obligations.
''I'm not sure how critical Jonathan O'Reilly is to the US war efforts," said Rich, adding that O'Reilly hasn't been activated, his Providence unit is in the process of being disbanded, and other Reserve officers have been allowed to resign.
Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Steve Ruscito, is commander of O'Reilly's unit: the Second Battalion, 385th Regiment, First Brigade, 98th division. Ruscito said O'Reilly has served diligently and has supported his resignation.
But, Ruscito said, commissioned officers serve at the pleasure of the president, and the rules for serving change in wartime.
''When we are at war, certain parts of our contract might be activated that would not be in place during peacetime," Ruscito said.
Thousands of soldiers and reservists have been forced to remain in the service after fulfilling their enlistment obligations, under what are known as ''stop loss" orders. The orders allow the military to suspend the discharge of reservists who have been deployed or whose units have been alerted that they are about to be deployed.
But O'Reilly's lawyer said his client's unit isn't under a stop-loss order, and he hasn't been activated for duty.
A number of lawsuits have been filed around the country by Army Reserve officers who have challenged the Army's refusal to let them resign after their time of duty was up. At least four dropped their suits after they were granted honorable discharges.
O'Reilly, who is single and a certified public accountant, said he was reluctant to file the suit and has enjoyed his years with the Army Reserve. But his life has changed, he said, and it's putting a strain on the small company where he works, the O'Connor Group, when he has to leave for Reserve training every year.
''I don't want to be negative, but they're not saying, 'We need you for another month or two,' " O'Reilly said. ''They're saying, 'You don't have a good enough reason to get out.' I never meant it to be a career."