Morale: Stop Loss Fades Away

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April 25,2008: The U.S. Department of Defense plans to halt using "stop loss" (keeping troops in up to 12 months beyond their discharge or retirement date) within the next two years. Because of retirements, schools, leave, expired enlistments and so on, military units today can have over twenty percent of their troops away, or about to leave, at any one time. To keep units headed for Iraq up to strength, the U.S. Army began using the "Stop Loss" rule six years ago. This meant that troops could not retire, and if they were at the end of their enlistment, they had to stay in the service until their tour of duty in Iraq is completed. The main reason for policy was to save lives. The majority of people stop lossed were NCOs (usually squad and team leaders about to be discharged, or senior ones about to retire) and technicians. The NCOs were critical in combat, the glue that held units together. Replacing these leaders just before a unit ships out to a combat zone, leaves troops with unfamiliar replacement leaders, which leads to mistakes, and dead soldiers.

Stop Loss also halts scheduled transfers from a unit so affected. The Stop Loss has been applied separately to active duty and reserve units, causing some morale problem in Iraq when reserve units were under Stop Loss and active duty units were not. So far, over 60,000 active duty and reserve troops have been hit with a Stop Loss order, and served another few months, or as much as a year.

During World War II, troops were in "for the duration" (of the war.) Historically, that was the exception, not the rule in the American military. During the American Revolution and American Civil War, troops served fixed enlistments and left when their six months, two years or whatever were up. The government was wary of issuing a "for the duration" order because of the potential political backlash. During the Korean and Vietnam war there was a limit of 13 months service in the combat zone and enlistments were rarely extended involuntarily. Iraq was another one of those wars where the government feels it can get away for a little "for the duration lite", which is what Stop Loss is.

Stop Loss has been part of the enlistment contract since the 1970s. Basically, troops take on an eight year obligation when they enlist, even if the specified period of active service is only three or four years. Normally, the rest of the obligation is served in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve), which usually requires no contact with the military. Thus, at the end of three or four years, troops receive a document saying they have been "released from active service." Four or five years later, they get their discharge. It's just another example of why you should always read the fine print.

 


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