This week, Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, the Army’s chief of personnel, announced that the military is enacting a “stop-loss” order to units preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, meaning that thousands of soldiers who would otherwise be eligible to leave the service are required to stay on. Iraq and Afghanistan are, by all accounts, badly in need of troops and reinforcements, and the measure is expected to increase troops by 30,000. John Kerry calls it a “backdoor draft” because of the involuntary nature of the order. Critics are wondering if the call is worth it if the morale of troops begins to flail.
The order means that if soldiers are in units called to Iraq or Afghanistan in the next 90 days, they are required to stay, even if they were set to retire or leave. They must remain on duty for three months of training, followed by duty overseas and three more months upon return.
This “stop-loss” order is the second to come after September 11.
According to Hagenbeck, the decision was due to the Army’s three-year reorganization, which will eventually require 48 brigades to train and serve as one constant unit, without fluctuation in soldiers. Pentagon officials said that the new policy would immediately affect two active Army units–the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, from Ft. Drum, N.Y., and the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is now based in South Korea.
Hagenbeck, made the case for denying any planned discharges or retirements: “The rationale is to have cohesive, trained units going to war together…this is what we do.”
In a speech on modernizing the military, Kerry was sharply critical of the measure: “this has happened on the backs of the men and women who’ve already fulfilled their obligation to the armed forces and to our country — and it runs counter to the traditions of an all-volunteer Army.”
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said that the potential outcome of the order could be compared to Vietnam in the late 1970s when soldier morale was extremely low. He warned of creating “another hollow Army,” with too few ready to fight.
Kerry said his first priority as commander in chief would be to increase the activity duty force by 40,000 soldiers for possible conflicts outside of Iraq. Half of the new force would be combat troops, the other half civil affairs personnel trained for reconstruction
The opinion page of the Macon [Telegraph]? in Georgia is concerned that the order will not only harm troop productivity, but also the ability to recruit new soldiers:
“The extensions amount to compulsory re-enlistment, a close cousin to the draft that was abandoned post-Vietnam, as not the best way to develop and keep highly motivated troops. Military sources who would comment on the expanded stop-loss plan admit it is a high-stakes gamble as to whether or not the short-term solution to improving troop availability and readiness will result in a longer-term morale problem that will limit future enlistments.”
The possibility of a full draft has been floating for many months. The Pentagon claims they don’t want it, and public sentiment is certainly opposed to the idea. The Associated Press reports that four out of five poll respondents say no to the idea. Still, the suggestion may be surviving because of the obvious need for more troops, and is further reinforced by military moves like the “stop-loss” order. In addition, recruitment is down, particularly in the National Guard and Reserves. ABC reports that recruiting for the Air National Guard is off by 23 percent.
How do soldiers feel about the orders? Not surprisingly, those who had planned to re-enlist are not effected. But many of those who were prepared to leave aren’t happy. Sgt. John Fiery, who just returned from Afghanistan, told the New York Times, “My personal opinion is that it is necessary, but it’s no longer a volunteer Army. If it’s people who have served their commitment, they should be allowed to leave.”
Pvt. Timothy Chambless, 21, of Pascagoula, Miss., has been in the Army 11 months and is expected to be deployed in 2005. He told the New York Times:
“I don’t agree with it. After you have served your time, you should be allowed to come home. It’s a heartbreaker leaving your family. I feel if someone has put in their time, they should be allowed to come home. If you are deployed over there, and you have to stay longer, your morale is shot.”
Andrew Exum, a former Army captain, calls the treatment of the soldiers “shameful” in an op-ed in the New York Times:
“Military officials rightly point out that stop-loss prevents a mass exodus of combat soldiers just before a combat tour. But nonetheless, the stop-loss policy is wrong; it runs contrary to the concept of the volunteer military set up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Many if not most of the soldiers in this latest Iraq-bound wave are already veterans of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have honorably completed their active duty obligations.
I remain close with them, and as the unit received its marching orders a few called me to express their frustration. To a man, they felt a sense of hopelessness — they know they have little say over their future until the Army releases them.”
He suggests that the “stop-loss” order allows the administration to meet demands while not making a big fuss in an election year. Exum wonders if U.S. ambitions call for a draft afterall:
“Stop-loss and the activation of the inactive reserve show how politics has taken priority over readiness. The Pentagon uses these policies to meet its needs in Iraq because they are expedient and ask nothing of the civilian populace on the eve of a national election. This allows us to put off what is sure to be a difficult debate: whether our volunteer military is adequate to meet our foreign policy commitments. Meanwhile, in the absence of this debate, the men and women of our armed forces languish.”