March 18, 2009— -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today the phased ending of the Army's use of its "stop-loss" policy, which extends soldiers' tours beyond the end of their enlistment contracts, and which critics have often called a "backdoor draft."
As of January, there are currently 13,200 soldiers continuing to serve in the Army beyond the tours of duty stated in their enlistment contracts. Gates announced a two-year timeline that will eliminate the ranks of soldiers currently serving in the Army under the policy by the spring of 2011.
"I believe it is important that we do everything possible to see that soldiers are not unnecessarily forced to stay in the Army beyond their end-of-term-of-service date," said Gates.
Beginning in August, the Army will stop extending soldiers beyond their enlistment dates so that the ranks of stop-loss soldiers are reduced by half by June 2010. The Army's goal is to totally eliminate the need for stop-loss by March 2011.
The military services have the legal power to involuntarily extend a soldier's service beyond the end of their enlistment contracts. In recent years, all military branches but the U.S. Army have been able to reduce the need to retain servicemen under the policy. Army officials have said the strain of maintaining the level of forces needed for Iraq and Afghanistan has forced them to continue using the policy.
Secretary Gates has been opposed to the use of stop-loss since he first came to the Pentagon in late 2006 and had asked the services to reduce its use.
"I believe that when somebody's end date of service comes, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do, " he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith."
In making the announcement, Gates acknowledged that the need for stop-loss may never totally go away, as it may be used "under extraordinary circumstances." But he expected that in the future, the numbers of those who might be affected would be in "scores not thousands."