Army Stop-Loss Program Forces 50,000 into Extended Duty
The AP has discovered the Army’s Stop-Loss policy, which is hardly news to those who have been paying attention. The sheer scope of the program might be somewhat surprising, however.
The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called “stop-loss,” but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat. The policy applies to soldiers in units due to deploy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Army said stop-loss is vital to maintain units that are cohesive and ready to fight. But some experts said it shows how badly the Army is stretched and could further complicate efforts to attract new recruits.
“As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force,” said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank. “When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you’re edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism.”
When soldiers enlist, they sign a contract to serve for a certain number of years, and know precisely when their service obligation ends so they can return to civilian life. But stop-loss allows the Army, mindful of having fully manned units, to keep soldiers on the verge of leaving the military. Under the policy, soldiers who normally would leave when their commitments expire must remain in the Army, starting 90 days before their unit is scheduled to depart, through the end of their deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to their home base.
Congressional critics have assailed stop-loss, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called it “a back-door draft.” The United States abolished the draft in 1973, but the all-volunteer military never before has been tested by a protracted war.
A report commissioned by the Pentagon called stop-loss a “short-term fix” enabling the Army to meet ongoing troop deployment requirements, but said such policies “risk breaking the force as recruitment and retention problems mount.” It was written by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer. Thompson added, “The persistent use of stop-loss underscores the fact that the war-fighting burden is being carried by a handful of soldiers while the vast majority of citizens incur no sacrifice at all.”
Stop-loss certainly does undermine the voluntary nature of military service and it is no doubt unfair to force those who have already sacrificed to give even more. There is, however, no ready alternative. Sending units to war shorthanded or with last-minute replacements is too big a risk.
Further, there are two categories of people involved: those who have completed their entire service obligation and thos who have not. While soldiers enlist for periods of two, three, or four years of active duty, all thereby commit to eight years of total service. During ordinary circumstances, those remaining years can be served in the Reserve Component, including the non-drilling Individual Ready Reserve. While unfortunate, forcing those who still have several years’ obligation to stay on active duty is not “a back-door draft.”
The Army has, however, tried to stop-loss people in beyond their eight years. That is unconscionable in an all-volunteer force.
Elsewhere: “Backdoor Draft?” TCS, 11 January 2005.