What is Stop Loss in the Military? – The Answer and More

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

what is stop loss in the military

What is stop loss in the military? This has been a topic of controversy in recent years.

It is a mandatory service that extends beyond the originally agreed end date for active-duty service members. Why is this controversial, how is it used in the military, and how does it affect soldiers?

In this article, we will explore the concept of stop loss in the military and the various perspectives surrounding this issue.

What Does Stop Loss Mean?


Stop loss is a phase in the military that the active-duty service soldiers have to continue serving beyond their original commitment without their voluntary agreement.

The ETS (Estimated Time in Service) date of members, which represents the end of their commitment to the military, is extended when stop loss is in place.

As a result, they must remain serving until the policy is lifted, even if they were previously scheduled to retire from service.

What is the History of Stop Loss?

Stop loss is a policy that originated after the Vietnam War (from 1955 to 1975) and was created by the U.S. Congress. It was applied to every branch of the military and followed Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

It was first deployed during the Gulf War (from 1990 to 1991) and used by all soldiers. After that, it’s only enforced on members with important skills. Later, the stop loss was implemented during the Bosnia and Kosovo War (1999).

At the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), all branches of the U.S. military used stop loss.

However, in the last nine years, only the Army has regularly deployed some version of the policy.

In the past, stop loss was enforced during events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and military operations in Somalia and Haiti.

Types Of Stop Loss


There are two types of stop loss: career field-based and unit-based. These stop-loss policies impact only members served in particular fields or units, not the entire military.

1. Career field-based

This form of stop loss is used to avoid the loss of critical skills in a specific career field. Thus, only service members with crucial skills are kept under this stop-loss order.

For example, in the initial stages of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), stop loss was imposed on key members in specific activities who can undertake aviation tasks.

2. Unit-based

The main purpose of unit-based stop loss is to maintain essential members and skills in the military. Thus, the strength of the Army was still guaranteed.

This type of stop loss usually falls during the ETS date of members, which means the members will be accidentally extended till the deployment orders army ends.

When And How Is It Used In The Military?

1. In The Army


The Army has been the biggest service in Operation Enduring Freedom (2001) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003). It has the most deployed soldiers and is widely used across the active Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard.

In the OEF campaign, the Army implemented a skill-based plan for soldiers with critical skills, which was later changed to a 12-month limit.

To prepare for the OIF campaign, the Army applied a unit-based scheme that kept soldiers in their units from 90 days before deployment to 90 days after demobilization.

This period was meant for transition operations to help soldiers get on well with the community. The Army temporarily replaced its unit-based in 2003 with a skill-based plan, but it was reinstated later that year.

2. In The Navy


During the beginning of OEF, the Navy introduced a skill-based scheme, which was later canceled in 2001.

However, after six months, a new one was put in place to keep hospital corpsmen to support the Marine Corps.

This program at first affected around 2,600 members, but it only lasted a month and ultimately impacted around 100 sailors. The stop loss Navy voluntarily ended in 2002 and was not reinstated for OIF.

3. In The Air Force


The Air Force used stop loss during the starting of OIF in 2003. They focused on 43 officers with 56 high-demand enlisted career fields.

This had an impact on more than 6,000 active-duty soldiers, around 4,800 active-duty enlisted, and more than 800 Guard & Reserve officers, .

4. In The Marine Corps


In early 2002, the Marine Corps approved the stop loss program, which was unit-based and impacted over 10,000 Marines over five months.

A more selective program followed, deployed in two stages:

  1. The first stage stabilized members assigned to an anti-terrorism unit, affecting around 560 marines.
  2. The other stage only applied to Marines in C-130 aircrew positions. The Marine Corps stopped using the policy in 2003.

During its stop loss program, this was also the only branch that allowed personal exemptions from the policy.

The Impact of Stop Loss on Soldiers

The impact of Stop Loss on soldiers can be significant and can affect their personal and professional lives:

  1. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves of soldiers can be affected by military stoploss.
  2. Some specific military members and their families may face a suspension of their relocation to a different base or post.
  3. It can also prolong a deployment cycle for service members by an additional 90 days, thereby increasing their time away from home.
  4. Stop loss may greatly impact a service member’s intention to move to the civilian sector. It is because it can cause a postponement in their retirement or separation from active duty.

How Does It Work (Vs. Mobilization of Reserves)?


The mobilization of reserves refers to activating reservists or National Guard members for active service during wars or national emergencies.

This policy applies to any reservist in the military and is not related to stop-loss orders.

After completing four years of service, military personnel are obligated to serve an additional four years in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).

The IRR is not considered active or selective reserves but supplements active forces during emergencies. Members of the IRR can be recalled for duty at any time during their four remaining years.

Is Stop Loss Legal?


Yes. Stop-loss is a legal policy in the military and is upheld by the U.S. court system. This is because when new recruits sign up for active duty, they also agree to a second service commitment called “inactive” status.

It means that even after completing their active duty service date, they are obligated to serve in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) for around four years.

During this period, they can be recalled to work without additional compensation.

The agreement between the Department of Defense and individual service members allows for extending active-duty commitment beyond the initial end of term of service (ETS) date through stop-loss orders.

The U.S. court system has found that the extension of army enlistment contract length is legal due to the binding contractual agreement made by military personnel upon joining the Armed Forces.

Controversy Surrounding Stop Loss


1. Oppose

Opposition to stop-loss is one of the main controversies surrounding this regulation. Many critics have referred to it as a “back-door draft”, arguing that it undermines the trust of affected soldiers in the Armed Forces.

Some activists and politicians have protested stop-loss procedures, while opponents have also raised concerns about the policy’s impact on military recruitment and retention in the long term.

  1. In 2007, Iraq war veterans raised the “Stop the stop loss” campaign, which included a vigil lasting for one week in the U.S.
  2. In 2008, the Our Spring Break, organized by a student association, stated symbolic stop-loss directives to the House of Representatives to protest the policy.

2. Changes And Updates

  1. No public information is available on any recent changes or updates to the stop loss military Yet, the Department of Defense (DoD) retains the authority to implement such orders if necessary.
  2. Possible scenarios include maintaining troop levels during a pandemic or other emergencies.
  3. However, it should be noted that DoD officials usually try to avoid stop-loss orders whenever possible.
  4. Such measures would be applied on a case-by-case basis to maintain mission requirements and operational security.

3. Alternatives

  1. Army: Provide a short-term army contract about voluntary reenlistment, which can be extended for 3 to 11 months.
  2. Marine Corps: Offer voluntary service extensions to Marines who have separation dates or military retirement move extension.
  3. Air Force: Shorten the basic military training course and improve preventive ways against pandemics.
  4. Navy: Offer extended service contracts to sailors and encourage separated sailors to return to serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does The Military Still Stop-Loss?

Is stop-loss still in effect? Yes. Stop-loss has not been completely discontinued and has not been an extensive change in recent years, but it’s not been abolished.

However, the military has instead implemented alternative measures, such as those mentioned earlier, to retain personnel. It is always possible that the military could use stop-loss again in the future if it is needed.

When Was The Last Time The Army Did A Stop-Loss?

The Army stop loss was discontinued for both active duty troops and those in the Reserves and National Guard during the last few months of 2009.

Do You Get Paid More For Stop-Loss?

No. The service members just continue to receive their regular pay and benefits, but they are not typically paid any extra amount for being subject to stop-loss.

What Is The Average Number Of Deployments Per Soldier?

The period for which each soldier is subject to stop-loss may vary. In a scenario where there are 15 Brigade Combat Teams applied on a 12-month cycle, the average member affected by stop-loss would serve for a further 4.8 months.


What is stop loss in the military? In short, stop-loss meaning refers to a policy that allows the U.S. military to extend the service of its personnel beyond their contractually agreed-upon separation date.

It is typically used during war or in response to unexpected operational needs.

While stop-loss can be a contentious issue for military members and their families, it is an important tool that the military can use to maintain operational readiness and mission effectiveness.

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