Stop-Loss and the All-Volunteer Force

Is an all-volunteer force that stops its volunteers from leaving the ranks once their agreed to terms of service have concluded really an all-volunteer force?

The Pentagon has announced it practically will eliminate the use of stop-loss, a practice that holds servicemembers past their service obligation. This comes at a time when the operational stress on the Army seems reduced, while the recruiting environment has improved. (There’s always an angle.).

Stop-loss, long controversial and highly unpopular, currently ensnares roughly 13,000 in uniform past their obligations. (It has been reported that 120,000 have been affected since 2001.) These are mostly Army soldiers, with half in the active component and the rest in the National Guard and Reserve. Though the program has been around for nearly two decades, it was only in October 2008 that an additional monthly compensation of $500 a servicemember was authorized by lawmakers. 

But $6,000 is a bargain when compared to the cost to find, recruit, and train qualified individuals to refill the ranks. (An all-volunteer force can be a challenge to manage!) 

By mid-2010 Defense Secretary (and Occasional Superhero) Robert M. Gates hopes to halve those currently serving under stop-loss, and, by 2011, he hopes to have maybe a few dozen remaining. 

In a March 18 release, Army Chief of Staff George Casey explained that stop-loss “ensure[s] that units that have trained together remain together in combat and that they have the qualified and experienced troops necessary for the full spectrum of military operations.” He went on to say, “Stop-loss is a legal tool that has allowed the Army to sustain a force that has trained together as a cohesive element. Losses caused by separation, retirement, and reassignments can adversely affect training, cohesion, readiness, and stability in deploying units. Limiting the use of stop-loss balances the need for unit effectiveness against the impact on individual soldiers and their families.” (We’re not so sure he really said this, and it is interesting that stop-loss seems to be such the one-stop remedy for an ailing force.) 

While unit cohesion seems a reasonable argument, stop-loss can be a great stop-gap measure when recruiting is a challenge and end-strength is elusive. In 2004, it was then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who called the program a “backdoor draft.” With improved recruiting prospects, the services will be eager to cull the herd. 

Overtures aside, the stop-loss policy will remain in effect to cover DoD in the event of a major emergency. 

Wasn’t that the deal the first time?

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