The Defense Department is considering bringing back "stop-loss" orders as a last resort to keep troops in the ranks past their separation dates in the ongoing fight against the novel coronavirus, according to Pentagon officials.
The possibility that the drastic step of employing stop-loss, first reported by The Washington Times, is even being considered underlines the growing strain on the military in ramping up efforts to assist in battling the pandemic.
There have been no formal recommendations to consider stop loss thus far, Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence said in a statement.
"Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation as a whole and on the military's ability to recruit and train new service members, the Department is looking at a wide range of options on maintaining readiness," she added. "While there are many options, stop-loss is one that would only be considered if absolutely necessary and is an alternative that we will work diligently to avoid."
Stop-loss was first used in the Gulf War, which began in 1990, and then for operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The U.S. military used stop-loss authorities broadly following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and subsequent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, prompting criticism that it was a “backdoor draft.” In 2009, then-defense secretary Robert Gates announced a plan to end the use of stop-loss almost entirely by 2011, saying its continued use amounted to "breaking faith" with troops.
The current strain on the military is evidenced by the growing demand from states for assistance.
A total of about 28,400 National Guard members have been activated thus far in all 50 states, and that number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming weeks, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Wednesday in a telephone conference with reporters at the Pentagon.
"We'll be well over 30,000 in the next couple of days," and the number could increase by 10,000 or more in the next week or two, he said.
In addition, the Navy and Air Force are also mobilizing volunteer reservists, and the Army has similarly asked about 10,000 medical personnel in the Individual Ready Reserve to return to duty on a voluntary basis.
Individual Ready Reserve members are those who have completed active duty but must remain ready for possible involuntary recall by presidential order.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.