WaPo has a rather disturbing piece on a new Army policy:

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army’s “stop-loss” orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

“It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit,” said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike — a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year.

By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army’s manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.

“Our goal is, we want to have units that are stabilized all the way down from the lowest squad up through the headquarters elements,” said Brig. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, director of enlisted personnel management in the Army’s Human Resources Command. “Stop-loss allows us to do that. When a unit deploys, it deploys, trains and does its missions with the same soldiers.”

I have little problem with involuntarily extensions of service obligations during active combat operations. But the Army is not at war in the classic sense at the moment and hasn’t been since April. Peace and stability operations, even in the context of the GWOT, are going to be the base operational tempo for the forseeable future. They can’t be the basis for involuntary extensions.

If the Army needs more soldiers than it has available, then there need to be other steps taken. In the long term, this might mean an increase in the overall end strength. In the nearer term, it almost certainly means that more MPs, engineers, civil affairs, and other skills essential for cimic missions be brought into the standing force. Until that happens, there should be substantial bonuses offered to those in critical skill areas who volunteer for extensions–especially those who have already served.

Forcing those who volunteered for military service to stay beyond their contracts is a poor long term strategy, as it will add a further disincentive to volunteering in the first place.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy K says:

    They need to have an Army (Navy/Airforce) Auxiliary again. (Not just women this time.) Volunteers who are not regular military but who can do some of the jobs they do. For instance, someone older may make a good guard even if they can’t march x miles per day with a 60lb pack.

    We could free up the regulars to do their own jobs. (And yes, I probably would volunteer.)

  2. Cam says:

    You know, Kathy, that’s a wonderful idea. Do you mind if I mention it to a few congressmen?

  3. Juliette says:

    Stop-loss happens all the time, at least four times that I can remember in my 21 years of service. WaPo just discovered it and are perpetrating it like some new-found “abuse” to the military. Consider the source.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I know we had a stop-loss after 9/11 and, if I recall correctly, another one during the Iraq War. But I don’t recall any during the 20 years my dad was in (1962-83) or during my brief stint (1988-92). I don’t see any problem with them during emergencies, but peacekeeping isn’t an emergency.

  5. Jem says:

    As I recall, there was some stop-loss in at least the Air Force during your time on active duty (first Gulf War)–though it may not have affected your specialty. We’ve also had stop-loss periods in my career field in 1999 (Kosovo) and, of course, the most recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq. So stop-loss isn’t really all that rare.
    Having said that, I agree that it is vital to long-term retention to have these sorts of exceptions to enlistment contracts be isolated and rare.

  6. Juliette says:


    A stop loss is often specialty-specific and might not have affected those of you and your father. I had four different specialties, one a combat-related one and two with chronic shortages. For the fourth and last one (medical), the powers-that-be gave those of us that were able to retire a heads-up: apply now or get caught in the changes. I listened and acted.