Judge Rejects Lawsuit Challenging Army "Stop Loss" Policy

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Judge Rejects Lawsuit Challenging Army "Stop Loss" Policy

Newspaper article

By: The Associated Press

Date: February 8, 2005

Source: The Associated Press

About the Author: This article was written by a contributor to the Associated Press, a worldwide news agency based in New York.


Thousands of United States servicemen and women were forced to remain in the military beyond their scheduled retirement or discharge after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The "stop loss" orders issued by the U.S. government indefinitely suspended the date that military personnel could leave the armed forces because an insufficient number of Americans had voluteered to replace them in the ranks. To critics of the policy, the government turned its own soldiers into prisoners of war.

At the start of the war on terror in 2001, fewer than half of one percent of Americans served in the armed forces. During the Vietnam War, five percent of Amerians served in the military while twelve percent of Americans put on a uniform during World War II. In September 2001, the Air Force became the first service branch to issue a stop loss order when it blocked eleven thousand people from leaving. In subsequent months, the Army, Navy, and Marines also imposed stop loss orders.

In 2004, the Pentagon relaxed the stop loss rules. In the wake of this decision, more special operations personnel left the military than at any time since the September 11 terrorist attacks. These personnel were Army Special Forces, known as Green Berets, and Naval Special Warfare personnel, known as SEALS. Nearly thirteen percent of Army-enlisted commandos left the service in 2004, compared with about six percent in 2003. Nearly ten percent of 1,237 sergeants in Special Forces with fourteen to nineteen years of experience left the service in 2004 compared with only thirteen leaving in 2003. The former commandos were recruited by private security firms working in Iraq and Afghanistan that could pay far higher wages than those offered by the U.S. military. These losses meant that younger, less-experienced special operations personnel were being promoted to leadership roles more quickly than in the past. High attrition also meant that if a shortage of Navy SEALS or Green Berets existed, a mission was not completed or the wrong personnel was sent.



WASHINGTON (AP)—A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Army's right to force soldiers to serve past the dates of their enlistments, the so-called "stop loss" policy that can keep men and women in uniform during war or national emergencies.

Spc. David Qualls had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Army from forcing him to remain on active duty, claiming his enlistment contract was misleading. He signed up for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard in July 2003 but was later told he would remain on active duty in Iraq until 2005.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth for the District of Columbia said the enlistment contract does notify those who sign up that the government could extend their terms of service. While acknowledging minimal harm to the Army if he ordered Qualls released, Lamberth said similar claims could lead to substantial disruption and diversion of military resources.

The enlistments of an estimated 7,000 active-duty soldiers have been extended under the policy, which the Army says is needed to provide experienced soldiers for battle. As many as 40,000 reserve soldiers could be ordered to stay longer.

Qualls and seven other soldiers serving in Iraq or en route to Iraq had asked the judge to order the Army to release them from service immediately. They contended the enlistment contracts make no explicit reference to the stop loss policy.

The government maintained that the enlistment contract provided that soldiers may be involuntarily ordered to active duty in case of war, national emergency or any other condition required by law, which the government contended would include extensions of existing contracts.

Qualls was ordered in December to return to Iraq while Lamberth reviewed his lawsuit. In January, Qualls volunteered for another six-year stint in the Guard.


The U.S. government took several steps other than stop loss orders to remedy the troop shortages. The Pentagon began an involuntary recall of soldiers who left active service, raised the eligibility age for the Reserve forces, and eased standards for new recruits. It also considered implementing a shortened, fifteen-month enlistment policy that had been used to disastrous effect during the Vietnam War. To immediately address the problem of a troop shortage, Pentagon officials in 2005 offered reenlistment bonuses of $8,000 for one year to $150,000 for six more years. It is doubtful if such bonuses substantially influenced enlistments. Private security firms offered $33,000 per month in 2005 with some former commandos earning $200,000 or more per year for essentially the same work they performed as soldiers.

The shortage of Americans willing to put life and limb at risk at the going pay rate and the urgency of having enough troops to fight in Iraq and other global hot spots has renewed calls for a draft. The military has long resisted a draft since an all-volunteer military provides better-quality soldiers. Draftees historically are less committed to the mission and less willing to obey orders. Politicians are also not especially eager to institute a program that will be politically unpopular. Yet the commitment to Iraq and the fight against terrorism are long efforts that will require a substantial number of military personnel. Without a draft, stop loss orders are the only means of obtaining sufficient numbers of soldiers for these battles.



Buzzell, Colby. My War: Killing Time in Iraq. New York: Putnam, 2005.

Crawford, John. The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq. New York: Riverhead, 2005.

Hartley, Jason Christopher. Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.