LOS ANGELES - Luis Prosper has spent more than half his life in
the Army and was looking forward the prospect of a new life starting at middle
But that all changed when the Defense Department issued a "stop loss"
order forcing some members of the country's volunteer armed forces to remain
in service beyond their contractually agreed-upon term.
Like thousands of other men and women in the military, Prosper, 41, has
had to rethink his future, at least for the time being.
"I was ready to retire, but I'm a soldier," said Prosper, a 25-year
veteran who has reached the rank of sergeant major. "Before we give these
soldiers bad leadership, I'd rather stay in uniform and do the job."
The ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are severely stretching
the armed forces, a situation that some experts suggest may grow far worse
within the next two years.
"In a year and a half or two years, there are going to be huge
[personnel] shortages," said Andrew Exum, a retired Army captain who served in
Afghanistan. "You can't keep these guys in for good."
Exum and others are worried that the stop-loss orders could dissuade
current service members from re-enlisting and reduce new enlistments.
"The biggest effect will be on those who might have re-enlisted," Exum
said. "The senior non-coms and majors and colonels are not going anywhere, but
they are not the ones fighting this war," he said of the enlisted volunteers
who make up the bulk of the fighting force.
The Pentagon issued its latest stop-loss order in June, forcing thousands
of men and women to stay in the military and requiring many to return to
combat duty well beyond their agreed-upon period of active service. The effect
of the order has been that thousands of members of the all-volunteer armed
forces no longer are serving voluntarily.
Both Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and Arizona's Republican
Sen. John McCain have condemned the administration's policy as a kind of
Last month a member of the California National Guard filed suit in
federal court in San Francisco challenging the Bush administration's stop-loss
policy on the premise that such orders can be issued only during a war
officially declared by Congress.
"We challenged the authority the government is doing this on," said
Joshua Sondheimer, one of the attorneys representing the guardsman, who is
identified only as John Doe in the suit in an effort to protect his privacy.
Sondheimer said his client, a former Marine who served in the current
Iraq conflict, has had to postpone plans to attend college.
"His life is a bit in limbo right now," he said.
In the all-volunteer armed forces, service is agreed to on a contractual
basis. Active-duty periods are specified, as is a period of reserve status.
Exum, for example, served actively for four years but is contractually bound
to another four years in the reserves.
Military service has been voluntary since 1973, when the draft came to an
end as the Vietnam war drew to a close. And then, tours in theaters of
operations were limited to one year for the most part.
"The stop-loss is having a tremendous impact on morale," said Charles
Moskos, a sociology professor at Northwestern University who specializes in
Moskos, who recently met with U.S. troops in Baghdad, said the
demographics of the U.S. armed forces have changed dramatically since service
became voluntary more than 30 years ago.
"The [National] Guard and the reserves are involved this time," he said.
"It is a much more married force with families involved."
Before the invasion of Iraq, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki
said in congressional hearings that several hundred thousand troops would be
required to maintain stability in the country after full combat ended.
Shinseki's suggestion quickly was dismissed by Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz, a view later echoed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Currently there are more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The latest
stop-loss order was bolstered by a separate decision to recall 5,600 members
of the 111,000-strong Individual Ready Reserve, soldiers who, like Exum, have
completed their specified period of active duty but remain on reserve status
until their contractual commitment is completed.
It was the first large-scale call-up from the Individual Ready Reserve
since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The underlying problem the Army faces grows from decisions made in the
wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Foreseeing a changed world in which a smaller force would be adequate, the
Army was trimmed by500,000 active-duty troops, about 300,000 fewer than in
Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the start of the war on
terrorism. The subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq presented the
armed forces with unexpected demands.
Exum, who was not affected by the stop-loss orders, has been in contact
with members of his former unit, the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division
based in Ft. Drum, N.Y.
He says his friends and colleagues are doing their duty and returning to
combat, but he remained concerned about the effect the new policy is having on
them and their families.
Exum says that if he had been ordered back to service, he would have
served. But he still feels that the stop-loss orders, while probably legal,
are fundamentally unfair and are done as a less objectionable way to maintain
force numbers than returning to a draft.
"These are one of those things we do for political interests," he said.
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