Sunday, June 15, 2008
The Army's stop-loss policy is a backdoor draft that must end.
CREDIT SOLDIERS from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division for bravery
last week, but not for standing up to America's enemies abroad.
Instead, they had the guts to grill their top brass about stop-loss -
a morale-killing, family-wounding Army policy that forces volunteers
to stay in the service beyond their enlistment agreements.
Stop-loss needs to stop, at least in its current form. It makes it
too easy for the Pentagon and politicians to avoid tough decisions
about sending soldiers into war zones.
Until that happens, Uncle Sam should have the decency to do one
thing: Give soldiers who are retained a little extra in their paychecks.
For seven years, the Army has used stop-loss to keep soldiers in
uniform, even though they had reached their separation or retirement
dates. That's why stop-loss is sometimes called a backdoor draft.
Volunteers are required to extend their service, no questions asked.
This unpopular policy is legal - it's in the fine print in enlistment
papers. It also benefits the Army over the short term by keeping
field-ready, battle-tested soldiers on the job. This prevents a
manpower crunch that compromises effectiveness, especially during
But over the long term, it does more harm than good. It makes it
tougher to convince young men and women to enlist. It serves as a
crutch for the Pentagon, allowing it to overextend the Army instead
of using it more judiciously.
Within the ranks, stop-loss creates hardships among families and
triggers much grumbling among soldiers. Commanding officers, however,
don't like to talk about it. They'd rather point to the positives and
advance their careers.
But about 600 non-commissioned and junior officers at Fort Stewart
who just returned from Iraq - including many who have done four or
five tours to that country and Afghanistan - weren't reluctant to speak up.
Last Wednesday, they popped Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Fort Stewart, with a stop-loss
question: When will it end?
His answer: Not anytime soon.
"I would like to see an end to the stop-loss policy," the four-star
admiral said, "but I don't see it happening in the near future." The
reason is Iraq. "The mission in Iraq is ... the priority," he said.
But maintaining good morale and a healthy, all-volunteer Army must be
priorities, too. The Army is shooting itself in the foot if it thinks
stop-loss is the best way to meet its manpower needs.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has introduced a bill
that would pay $1,500 a month to soldiers on active duty who are
involuntarily extended under stop-loss. He would make payments
retroactive to the start of the Iraq war.
We encourage Georgia's two senators to support this measure.
It would compensate soldiers for putting their lives on hold while
they are "drafted" to serve their country.
But more than that, it would put a real price tag on the cost of
requiring soldiers to continue their military service. Instead of
making soldiers stay put, leaders would be forced to take harder
looks at deployments and reconsider how the military is used.
Seven years of stop-loss hurts the Army on the front end with
recruiting and on the back end with morale. National security is
affected. That's why stop-loss should cease.
It makes it too easy for the Pentagon and politicians to avoid tough
decisions about sending soldiers into war zones.