Pentagon Seeks To Reduce 'Stop Loss'

January 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Pentagon Seeks To Reduce 'Stop Loss'

Baltimore Sun
January 29, 2007
Pg. 3

Gates tries to cut use of policy that keeps troops past their term
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON--In an action branded a backdoor draft by some critics, the U.S. military over the past several years has held tens of thousand of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on the job and in war zones beyond their retirement dates or enlistment length.
It is a widely disliked practice that the Pentagon, under new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, is trying to figure out how to cut back on.
Gates has ordered that the practice - known as "stop loss" - "be minimized." At the same time, he is looking for ways to decrease the hardship for troops and their families, recruit more people for a larger military and reassess how the active duty and reserves are used.
"It's long overdue," said Jules Lobel, vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for some in the military who have challenged the policy in court.
"It has created terrible problems of morale," Lobel said. "It has in some cases made soldiers feel that they were duped or deceived in how they were recruited."
Gates has asked the chief of each service branch for a plan by the end of February on how they would rely less on stop loss.
The authority has been used off and on for years, and was revived by all services to some extent after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Army revived the policy in early 2002 to keep people with skills or specialties deemed critical to the fight against terrorism and later used it to retain whole units, according to an Army chronology.
Pentagon officials provided no figures on how many troops the policy has affected, but in the Army alone, it is in the tens of thousands.
The newspaper Army Times reported in September that 10,000 soldiers were being held in the service at the time. At one point in 2003, the number was 25,000, according to the account.
The Navy stopped a few hundred sailors from leaving in the year after the attacks and used the policy again after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Marine Corps used it from January through August of 2003, and at its highest point had 3,400 active-duty troops and 440 reservists held in service under the authority, said 1st Lt. Blanca E. Binstock, a spokeswoman.
The Air Force did not have statistics immediately available.
The Defense Department says the main reason for the policy is to keep units whole for deployments, regardless of whether service time is up for some in the unit.
"It's based on unit cohesion," then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once said when a soldier questioned him about the policy during Rumsfeld's visit to the staging area in Kuwait that is used for troops going into Iraq.
Rumsfeld said the policy was "something you prefer not to have to use in a perfect world." He said it was basically a sound principle and well understood among soldiers.
A half-dozen lawsuits have challenged the policy. Courts have said the Pentagon can extend deployments involuntarily if the president believes the practice is essential to national security.
Though families dislike the policy and some troops oppose it, others accept it as a fact of life in wartime. Others, including lawmakers who have pushed for years for a larger military, have criticized the policy as a way of increasing the size of the force through back channels to the detriment of volunteers.
President Bush said last month that the military should be larger. One of Gates' first major decisions upon replacing Rumsfeld in December was to recommend that the Army be increased by 65,000 soldiers, to 547,000 worldwide, and that the Marines grow by 27,000, to 202,000.
Gates' effort to stop keeping troops in the service after their commitment expires is part of a wider effort, laid out in a memo Jan. 19, that ordered new incentives for those who deploy early or often, or are extended.

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