Friday, May 09, 2008


In an article in the L.A. Times, Julian Barnes brings an increase in the use of stop-loss orders to our attention.
The number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army involuntarily under the military's controversial "stop-loss" program has risen sharply since the Pentagon extended combat tours last year, officials said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was briefed about the program by Army officials who said that thousands of new stop-loss orders were issued to keep soldiers from leaving the service after Gates ordered combat tours extended from 12 to 15 months last spring.

The Army has resorted to involuntary extensions of soldiers' enlistment terms to prevent them from leaving immediately before a combat tour or in the middle of a deployment.
Though the article is a good one, Barnes is actually missing the point here a bit. These stop-loss orders aren't just going to soldiers who would "leave a pretty gaping hole" if pulled from an active unit, as Secretary of Defense Gates says in the article, but are actually hitting people who haven't been in uniform in some time.

Case in point: Colby Buzzell, author of the excellent memoir My War and writer for Esquire, who recently received orders to drop his, um, classes and grab his socks after three years as a civilian.

Buzzell is actually in the area that I consider a "soft" stop-loss case. You see, what most non-veteran civilians don't realize is that almost all servicemembers sign a contract for eight years, at a minimum. Sure, the military talks about two-year or four-year contracts, but they're only talking there about the initial active requirement. Once that's completed, servicemembers still have an Individual Ready Reserve requirement that lasts up to eight years after they went to boot camp. So Buzzell signed up for two, did his time and now, three years after his active time ended, will be heading off again. He could have been out of uniform for a lot longer and still have been called up.

But "hard" stop-loss cases can keep you in even longer than the eight years of your contract and this could be part of what is driving the rise in usage of the stop-loss program. Think about it: 9/11 happens and hundreds of young Americans show up at recruiting offices to do their part. If they signed up in late 2001, that means they'll be reaching their seven-year mark this year. So, if the Army needs to find a unit to deploy, they'll pick one and then find people to fill in personnel holes. It could take months for the unit to actually deploy, then there's the actual 15-month deployment, plus the Army can keep you in up to 90 days after you return from the deployment.

That means that many of those soldiers who joined for two- and four-year tours in a rush of patriotism could be receiving letters in the mail that will call them back to the service after 3-5 years of civilian life. Then, depending on whether it takes six months or a year to get their "boots on the ground," those supposedly volunteer troops--the wiseass military term is "voluntold"--could spend the next two to two-and-a-half years of their lives serving, even though their contracts ran completely out a year or two earlier.

I will guess that we will see further increases in the use of the stop-loss mechanism as we near the end of the year.

"Many people believe that the draft ended the Vietnam War," Buzzell writes, adding:
I'm convinced that reinstating the draft would definitely end this war. Rich, connected people will always find a way to evade mandatory service, but what about the rest of America? The middle class - people with good jobs and nice lives - would perhaps riot if the government even suggested that it expected from them what the Army expects from veterans.
He's absolutely right here. The lack of a draft is not due to the lack of a need for a draft, but is a political decision made to keep Americans from marching in the streets in large numbers to end this war.

Some try to claim the draft weakens the military, as Oliver North did two years ago:
Reinstituting the draft would inevitably require that these standards be lowered. We've made that mistake before. In the late 1960s President Lyndon Johnson implemented what he called "Project One Hundred Thousand" -- a program that forced the military to accept draftees who would otherwise have been rejected.
But the military is already accepting enlistees they would have rejected in the past and those "waiver" recruits have higher rates of misconduct and desertion than those who did not require an enlistment waiver, according to the Army's own study. Further, the DoD has sent 43,000-plus troops to war who are, by the military's own standards, classified as medically unfit.

And, frankly, the fact the stop-loss program exists has to be turning off some of the more ideal recruits who might have otherwise chosen to join the service. It's an anti-recruiting program.

As I wrote in comments elsewhere, the stop-loss situtation is one of the worst example of the callousness of our current political class. During Vietnam, there was a refusal to activate large portions of the Guard and Reserve because that's where the elites were stowing their children. Post-Vietnam, the Army stuck units with vital military interest in the reserve components in order to force politicians to activate them if they wanted to go to war. Today's unwillingness to demand service is equally cowardly and driven solely by the desire of politicians to remain in power.

If you want to end this war, you should be working to close down this program and reinstating the draft. If you think it's the right thing to do, you should have the courage of your convictions, end this program and make your case that staying is the right thing to do and a draft is the only way to do it. Anyone who cares about our country and our military should want this ridiculous policy ended.


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