A fellow blogger recently asked me, through a comment on my About Me page, for my thoughts on a piece she wrote in 2010 about the U.S. Army’s stop loss policy. The following link is to the piece she asked me to comment on:
I am honored that anyone would ask for my feedback on the subject. I hope, however, she doesn’t regret asking! While I appreciate her effort, (and anyone in general who draws attention to the policy), I can’t say I entirely agree with the commentary. My thoughts on the subject follow …
Oh boy, where do I begin? First let me say thank you for contacting me and asking for my thoughts on the subject. All of the NCO’s (sergeants) in my platoon who I deployed with to Iraq were stop lossed and on their second tour. My husband was stop lossed for his second tour. When we came back from Iraq, and I became pregnant with my son, I basically had two choices: leave early or stay late. Either way, simply remaining active for the time I had initially signed up for was not an option. I had to choose between either exercising my legal right to chapter out of the Army before my son was born, or finishing my active enlistment period knowing I would be stop lossed and deployed again, this time with a newborn baby at home. I chose to end my contract early because I knew I was not as strong as the numerous women I deployed with who had to leave their babies home while they marched off to war. (If anyone has earned the title “Hero,” in my opinion, it is these women). I would have preferred to finish my time in, and I absolutely would have if it weren’t for the stop loss policy.
Having said all that, I have to respectfully disagree with the overall sentiment of your post. I agree stop loss is a bad policy. When it is implemented the way it was in my unit (which I’ll get to in a minute), in my opinion it’s wrong and an abuse of the clause. It’s terrible for morale, and it results in a lot of soldiers spending a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to figure out how to avoid it. But I do not agree it’s illegal. I can see how you could argue the point, as you did well, if you only look at that tiny section of the contract which you site. But as fullbasicload pointed out, there are many more pages to the contract, and in the course of those pages, it’s spelled out pretty clearly that ALL soldiers sign an eight year contract. Stop loss or no stop loss, you are subject to reactivation at ANY TIME during that eight year period. (The following About.com article touches on this a bit: http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/joiningup/a/recruiter4.htm).
It’s all there in black and white when you sign your contract, although fullbasicload is right when he explains that the soldier’s understanding of what that actually means is usually dramatically different from the reality. The way the contract reads implies that if there is some unexpected national emergency, like another attack on U.S. soil, you will be called back to service. The recruiter’s explanation of the contract reinforces this implied meaning; however, anyone who puts the slightest bit of effort into finding out more about making the biggest decision of their life, either through talking to other soldiers or vets, or even doing a basic Google search about joining the military, will find out instantly what everyone in the service knows all too well: Recruiters lie. Contracts don’t. It’s all right there in the contract, but whether it is right, wrong, illegal or just immoral, the way stop loss has been implemented is, in my opinion, a bad idea and an abuse of the clause.
In the 3rd Infantry Division (ironically the same division your infamous rapping soldier hails from), whether or not you can expect to be stop lossed is entirely dependent upon what date your ETS happens to fall on (End Term Service—end of the active portion of your contract, NOT the eight year period you committed to). In other words, it’s a total crap shoot, a luck of the draw, and on the surface appears to border on arbitrary. The 3rd Infantry Division does not implement stop loss as a rare measure reserved for emergency situations, but as a matter of policy for any soldier whose ETS happens to fall within 90 days of a deployment cycle. Since the division is what they call in the Army a “Rapid Deploying Unit,” which means it pretty much deploys every other year, there is a pretty good chance that your ETS will fall within this window, and you are going to get extended for another tour. This policy, incidentally, not only applies to getting out of the Army, but it also applies to unit transfers as well. This is the first thing a new soldier learns when he or she reports to the 3rd ID because it is just a fact of life for Dog Faced Soldiers.
What you have as a result is a bunch of soldiers trying to figure out how to get out of their second tour before they’ve even deployed for their first. This is horrible for morale. It fosters resentment, crushes loyalty, and makes for an awful lot of disgruntled soldiers. What most civilians don’t really realize when they thank a soldier for their service or their sacrifice is what that sacrifice is. A soldier—stop loss or no stop loss—willingly sacrifices his or her freedom in order to stand on call to protect yours. The key word here is willingly. Your contract makes that very clear before you sign, and so does anyone who knows anything about the military who you may talk to before joining. This isn’t because the military is mean or evil or doesn’t care about its soldiers. It is this way because it has to be, especially in a nation that doesn’t exercise the draft. It is this way because even the United States Constitution makes it very clear that national security trumps personal freedom, and having an Army staffed with individuals who could just go on strike or quit when they felt like it would be a grave threat to national security. Stop loss and the IRR recall, however, are the most extreme examples of how a soldier surrenders his or her freedom for eight years when they sign their contract, and the way it is implemented is often, in my humble opinion, an abuse of that contract.
That is not to say that there are no valid reasons for implementing the policy the way it has been. The 3rd Infantry Division cites “unit cohesion” for its justification of its stop loss policy. Units are given a certain number of slots for each job position. When a soldier is holding that slot, a new soldier will not be sent to fill the slot until that soldier leaves. Without stop loss, if you are a company commander and one-third of your company is scheduled to ETS about a month before you deploy, you will be going to war with one-third fewer soldiers than you should. When and if those soldiers are replaced, those replacements will be newcomers who haven’t trained with the rest of the soldiers in the unit or have in any way come to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and how they operate before entering a combat situation together. This is harmful to unit cohesion and dangerous for soldiers on the battlefield. Instead of revising the way soldiers are replaced in a unit (assuming that’s even possible with the number of soldiers the Army has to work with), it is more expedient and efficient for the military to simply stop loss all soldiers getting ready to leave.
I could go on and on about the complexities of this policy, valid reasons for why it is implemented, why I think it shouldn’t be implemented, alternative solutions, etc., but hopefully I’ve said enough to shed some light on the intricacies of the policy. As with most things in the Army that seem absolutely ludicrous from a civilian point-of-view, it is done the way it is for a reason—that’s not to say there isn’t a better way to do it, but the solution is almost never as cut and dry or obvious as it seems on the surface.
The devastating psychological outcome of stop loss and multiple tours definitely has a trickle down effect that is harmful to lower-enlisted soldiers who look at their leadership and think, “Is this what I have to look forward to? Is there really no end in site?” If I ever write a novel or a memoire of my time in service, stop loss will undoubtedly feature prominently throughout the book because it is unquestionably a dominant theme that characterizes in one way or another the service of every soldier stationed in a Rapid Deploying Unit (which is, in fact, a small percentage of the Army. While only about 1% of the population serves, the entire burden of both wars has been born mostly on the shoulders of a small percentage of that 1%). But again, as fullbasicload has pointed out, this is the consequence of an all-volunteer Army in a nation that doesn’t implement a draft. A huge factor in my decision to enlist when I did was that I don’t believe democracies should practice conscription, but in order to maintain an all volunteer Army, you need volunteers.
As for the private cited in the beginning of your post, I have to say that while to a civilian, a rap song may seem harmless, this is one of those situations that illuminates how military life and the civilian world are sometimes universes apart. You ask, “Ask a soldier what’s scarier: a couple of rhyming couplets, or redeployment to Iraq?” I would answer deploying to Iraq standing next to the guy who wrote the couplets. It is one thing to write a rap song about killing your chain of command, which in itself is subversion and deserving at the very least of harsh reprimand; it is an entirely different thing to send the lyrics of that song TO THE PENTAGON right before you are, in fact, about to be stop lossed. Any soldier who lives and breathes military life knows exactly what kind of repercussion will come following such a move—especially on the heels of the Fort Hood massacre—which indicates that the soldier who did that was either coming completely unhinged or is absolutely fucking retarded. Since the latter is highly unlikely given his time in service, anything less than the punishment he received would have been gravely irresponsible on the part of his chain of command.
I can’t stress this point enough. I know soldiers who were stationed at Fort Hood when one of the officers who was entrusted with their care and well being opened fire on them. That of course is the most well-known and extreme example of a soldier loosing his mind, but for soldiers who deploy, knowing that the soldier standing next to you with a loaded weapon could come unhinged at any time is a reality. All soldiers who have deployed know “that guy” who they wish the command would send home. When command does not send “that guy” home, that’s often when atrocities happen. I have personally been the target of a soldier’s loose grip on reality right before his weapon was taken away from him and he was sent home. As a soldier, you rely on your command to immediately identify and protect you from other soldiers who show any sign they might turn on you or are otherwise coming unglued. When you are dealing with an entire force of an unimaginably stressed and often disgruntled population armed with semi-automatic weapons, you don’t have the luxury of ignoring red flags, no matter how small, or dismissing any threat as artistic expression, trivial as it may seem to the civilian world. Even if you are correct, and it was a harmless expression of his disgruntlement, the difference is that as a civilian, you are not expected to know the repercussions of such actions, but as a soldier he has no excuse. He knew better. It is not the song lyrics that were the red flag—it is the fact that he completely disregarded the consequences of sending those lyrics TO THE PENTAGON.
Having said all that, I hope you don’t regret having asked for my opinion on the subject! As a veteran, I do appreciate any light that is shed on the stop loss policy. I believe it is harmful and destructive to soldiers and the military alike. When I was a soldier, I often said I wished the people who were putting their effort into protesting the war would direct their energy instead to the stop loss policy; however, I must tell you I don’t know too many soldiers who would not be offended by the comparison—well intended as it may be—of their service to a Nazi death camp. Most of the soldiers I served with knew full well what they were signing up for, and they were happy to do their part and serve their deployment. They were not devastated by the war; they were devastated by the never-ending prospect of it. But I do appreciate your interest in a subject most people have comfortably ignored for the duration of the war, and I thank you for doing your part to draw attention to it.
- An Ideal For Which I Am Prepared To Die (onlyspartanwomen.com)
- In Memory of SGT Mason Lee Lewis (onlyspartanwomen.com)
- OIF/OEF Retroactive Stop Loss Pay Deadline Extended (vabenefitblog.com)