September 26, 2008:
are getting a 3.9 percent pay raise next year, on top of a 3.5 percent raise this
year. The U.S. Congress has been generous with the troops, providing money for
more recruiting bonuses, combat service benefits and increased veterans benefits.
Typical of these new benefits is a $500 a month bonus, beginning next
year, for time they have to serve on
active duty because of a "stop loss" (keeping troops in up to 12
months beyond their discharge or retirement date) order. Earlier this year, the
U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to halt using "stop
loss" within the next two years.
Stop Loss has been used to improve the combat ability of units headed
overseas. 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
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
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.