Do I Have to Sign This?
Published by girights
Often times people in the military are tricked, coerced, or misinformed into believing that they must sign certain documents such as extensions, reenlistments, job reclassifications, or an agreement to spend a remaining service obligation in an active guard unit. Most of the time such agreements are voluntary, but because of command pressure, the person signing them thinks they have no choice. The command creates the impression that the person must sign and then, after the fact, tells the person that they voluntarily agreed. However, if the command has the authority to require the military member to take an action, they can just cut an order. Being asked to sign normally indicates that the action is voluntary.
If a person isn't sure whether an agreement is voluntary, there are several steps that can be taken.
1) Ask whether signing is voluntary. If a person is told that signing is not voluntary, a follow up question would be to ask what authority requires the action and which regulation covers the issue. A person can ask for documentation in writing from the command that the action is required.
2) A person can ask to take home a copy and read it over and think it over carefully before signing.
3) While thinking it over, a person can contact the GI Rights Hotline or Trial Defense or some other attorney about whether the signature is required.
Often times commands get what they want by applying pressure and intimidating people. Then, once they get the signature, they say that the signing was voluntary. In this manner, military members are rushed into decisions that will affect them for years. However, usually when commands are challenged on this point, they avoid situations where they will get in trouble for misleading people, especially if there would be a paper trail of their having applied pressure inappropriately. The time to explore one's rights is before any signature is made.
There are some occasions where a signature does not bind a person to action, but only indicates that the command explained certain information to a service member. In these cases, such as routine counsellings, there is normally no harm in signing since it is only to confirm that information was explained. However, anytime someone is not sure exactly what they are signing it is fine to pause and make sure that they clearly understand what they are signing and how signing obligates them in the future.