American Forces Information Service
active duty soldier is transferred to a new duty station that
is not in his state of residence. When he takes up residence
in the city outside the installation, he is informed he must
have a city sticker on his car cost: $25. While paying
the fee, the city clerk mentions the soldier needs to pay personal
property tax on his car another $300. The soldier grudgingly
pays the $325 accessed fees. He just paid $324 too much, not
knowing he was only legally responsible for a $1 administrative
A pilot for a major airline is called to active
duty for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf to fly
missions over the Southern No-Fly Zone. She leaves behind a
family, a large mortgage and plenty of credit card debt. Equally
important, she leaves behind a salary her active duty status
pay could not begin to match. But when she arrives home six
months later, there are no overdue bills, her mortgage is up
to date, and her credit rating is as good as the day she left.
The difference between the experience of the soldier transferred
overseas and the pilot sent to the Persian Gulf is that the
pilot took advantage of a special package of protections available
to all service members called the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil
Relief Act of 1940.
You may not know it by its formal title. Indeed, it's quite
possible you don't know it exists at all. But if you are a
service member on active duty, you are under its umbrella of
protection from the day you take the oath to the day you leave
It is one of the most comprehensive and enduring packages of
protection Congress has ever enacted on service members' behalf.
If you have a credit card or a mortgage, you have the potential
to benefit from the act. If you're ever involved in any type
of civil litigation, you will find the act's umbrella of protection
extends to that as well.
"Service members should have a basic understanding of
the depth of protection and their rights under this act,"
said Lt. Col. Patrick Lindemann, deputy director for legal
policy in DoD's Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for
Personnel and Readiness. "The act does a great job of
protecting the rights of service members. It's a significant
law for service members, especially for reserve component service
members called to active duty. Every service member needs to
be aware that the act exists so they don't potentially miss
out on its protections.
Any member of the uniformed services serving on active duty
is covered under the Act. This includes reserve component personnel
called to active duty, Coast Guard personnel, as well as officers
of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Despite the act's official title dating it to 1940, its origins
can be traced as far back as the Civil War when Congress passed
a total moratorium on civil actions brought against Union soldiers
and sailors. In basic terms, this meant that any legal action
involving a civil matter was put on hold until after the soldier
or sailor returned from the war. Examples of civil matters
included breach of contract, bankruptcy, foreclosure or divorce
Congress' intent in passing the moratorium was to protect both
national interests and those of service members. First, Congress
wanted service members to be able to fight the war without
having to worry about problems that might arise at home. Secondly,
because most soldiers and sailors during the Civil War were
not well paid, it was difficult for them to honor their pre-service
debts, such as mortgage payments or other credit.
concern about protecting the rights of service members was
raised again during World War I when the Soldiers' and Sailors'
Civil Relief Act of 1918 was passed. Like the Civil War-era
moratorium, the 1918 legislation was designed to protect the
rights of service members while they were serving in the war.
Although the 1918 Act did not include a total moratorium on
civil actions, it did protect service members from such things
as repossession of property, bankruptcy, foreclosure or other
such actions while they were in harm's way.
The 1918 Act stayed in effect until shortly after World War
I, when it expired.
The present-day statute, essentially a reenactment of the 1918
law, was passed in 1940 to protect the rights of the millions
of service members activated for World War II. The major difference
between it and the 1918 version, other than minor modifications,
was there was no provision for the Act to expire, as it did
after World War I. Thus, since 1940, service members have received
uninterrupted coverage under the Act. And indeed, congressional
commitment and support for the Act has remained so strong,
the Act has been amended more than 11 times since 1940 to keep
pace with a changing military and changing world, with the
last amendments added in 1991 during the Gulf War.