1. Careers
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Military STOP LOSS

Is it a "Back-Door Draft?"


Jose Fernando Ogura/Curitiba/Brazil/Moment/Getty Images
Updated June 03, 2014

News-pundits do not have a very good track record when it comes to using military terms correctly. I'm reminded of a couple of years ago when I heard a news reporter refer to a Naval aircraft carrier as a "battleship," or how reporters are constantly referring to officers and enlisted of the Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps as "soldiers."

Now, it seems as if they're redefining the term "STOP LOSS" to mean anytime a military member's deployment is extended. A couple of weeks ago, I watched and listened as some of the "talking heads" on one of the Sunday talk shows, discussed DOD's decision to extend some troops in Iraq, until after the Iraqi elections. One of the "experts" stated that the military did this under the authority of "STOP LOSS."

BUZZ, incorrect! But, thanks for playing, anyway, and be sure to play again.

So, exactly what is "STOP LOSS?" Well, to financial folks, it's a term used in the buying and selling of stock. But, don't ask me anything more in that venue -- if I was a financial wizard, I'd be writing this article from my private beach in the Bahamas (You could ask Joshua Kennon, About's Guide to Investing for Beginners, however).

In military terms, "STOP LOSS" means not letting a military member separate or retire, once their required term of service is complete.

First, however, let's discuss one aspect that is often confused with STOP LOSS, but is, in reality, a totally separate issue:

When anyone joins any branch of the United States Military for the first time, they incur a minimum eight year total service obligation (some special jobs, such as pilot, can incur even longer service obligations). Whatever time is not spent on active duty, or in the active Guard/Reserves (you know, the ones who drill one weekend a month?), must be spent in the IRR, or "Individual Ready Reserves." Members of the IRR, don't drill, nor do they receive any pay, but they are subject to recall to active duty at any time during their time in the IRR.

For example, if someone joins the Army under a "two year enlistment," then gets out, he/she is subject to recall to active duty for another six years. If somone joins the Air Force for four years, and then separates, he/she can be recalled to active duty for four more years.

This is spelled out in paragraph 10a of the enlistment contract, which states:

    If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component, unless I am sooner discharged.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not part of STOP LOSS, although it is often assumed to be. This is part of the President's Reserve Call-Up Authority.


STOP LOSS, on the other hand, means extending a military person in the Guard or Reserves, or on active duty, beyond what their normal separation date would be. Those who join the military agree to this provision under paragraph 9c of the enlistment contract states:

    In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six (6) months after the war ends, unless my enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.

That, is the basis of STOP LOSS. The Department of Defense maintains that the term "war" means anytime America's Armed Forces are engaged in hostile conflict, and not just "war declared by Congress." Would that stand up in court? We don't know yet, as STOP LOSS has never been challenged in court. However, there are eight Guard and Reserve troops who have banded together to file a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Defense for calling them to active duty, and then keeping them on active duty past their separation date, under the authority of STOP LOSS, so perhaps we'll soon find out.

I should mention here that STOP LOSS is not new. Political opponants of the President often refer to STOP LOSS as a "back-door draft," and act as if President Bush invented the policy.

Congress first gave STOP LOSS authority to the Department of Defense right after the draft ended. However, the military didn't use the authority until the 1990/1991 Gulf War, when Bush Senior imposed STOP LOSS on pretty much everyone in the military during the Gulf War. This STOP LOSS was later revised to include only those deployed, and individuals in certain critical job skills.

President Clinton imposed STOP LOSS at the beginning of the Bosnia deployment, and during the Kosovo Air Campaign. STOP LOSS was imposed for a brief period right after 9/11, and then again in 2002 and 2003.

The current STOP LOSS program only affects members of the active duty Army, the Army Reserves, and the Army National Guard, and only affects individuals who are either deployed or have been officially notified that they are scheduled for deployment. Such members are prevented from separating or retiring from the point of deployment notification, to (up to) 90 days following return from deployment.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.