UPDATE

Congress Moves to Underline the 'Peace' in Peace Corps

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Heeding objections from Peace Corps volunteers, Congress has canceled a military enlistment option that would have allowed some U.S. troops to fulfill part of their military obligation by serving in the Peace Corps starting next year.

The National Peace Corps Association, a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers and staff, complained that the recruitment program would blur a bright line that had been respected since the agency's inception in 1961. It argued that if Peace Corps volunteers came to be seen as soldiers in disguise, their safety and effectiveness would be at risk overseas.

The program was eliminated -- before it ever truly took effect -- by legislation introduced in the Senate by Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), and in the House by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), after The Washington Post wrote about the Peace Corps' concerns in August.

The bipartisan bill was incorporated as an amendment to the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed in mid-December and President Bush signed into law Jan. 6.

"Both military service and Peace Corps service are valuable and honorable, but they're different functions, and they need to be kept distinct and separate," Kline said yesterday.

Congress had originally created the National Call to Service program with little or no debate in 2002. Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez told The Post last year that he was not aware of it until after its passage. He said he "could live with it" because the Peace Corps, not the military, retained final authority to decide who could join the Corps.

The first group of about 4,300 recruits would have been eligible to apply to the Peace Corps under the program in 2007, after serving at least 18 months on active duty and two years in the National Guard or the military reserves.

Under the revised National Call to Service, they still can apply to fulfill their military obligations by serving in AmeriCorps, the domestic national service program. Military veterans also remain eligible to serve in the Peace Corps, but "there is no formal linkage between the military and the Peace Corps," said Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association.

-- Alan Cooperman


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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