What’s a Backdoor Draft?

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The US military uses a policy called stop-loss to extend service contracts, which opponents refer to as a backdoor draft. Soldiers can be forced to complete deployment before retiring, causing stress and business disruptions. The policy also affects Navy and Air Force personnel. The government can pursue military action more easily with a backdoor draft, as it attracts less public attention than a full-scale draft.

The term “backdoor draft” is used to refer to a policy known as a stop-loss, used by the United States military to involuntarily extend service contracts. Stop-loss was developed after the Vietnam War and has been used extensively ever since, particularly in Gulf War II, when military officials became concerned about personnel shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opponents of stop-loss refer to this policy as a backdoor draft to suggest that, despite the fact that there is no official draft, some sort of draft is underway in the United States.

When people join the military in the United States, they sign an eight-year contract that includes two to four years of active duty and four to six years in the reserves. After eight years, the soldier has reached his “service end date,” which means he can reenlist or choose to leave the service. In stop-loss, an active duty soldier will find his active duty extended into the time he would normally serve in the reserves. If a so-called “end of service date” falls while the soldier is on active duty, the soldier will be forced to complete deployment before he can retire from duty.

The justification for the stop loss is that troop shortages are extremely dangerous, not just to the outcome of the war, but to the troops on the ground. Soldiers who are already on active duty are obviously fully trained, making their stay extremely important to the military. In stop-loss, the Army can ensure that it has enough active duty military personnel.

For soldiers, stop loss is frustrating and daunting. Many stop-loss redeployed soldiers don’t have time to relax and unwind from previous deployments, increasing their stress levels and risk of mental illness in the future. Multiple deployments are emotionally and physically draining, and for members of reserves who have been deployed, deployments can ruin the former reservist’s business, as he or she is not present to oversee the running of the business.

Stop loss orders can be given at any time, and often the timing of the order is such that the soldier has little opportunity to fight it. By law, soldiers can apply for segregation after serving an additional year on stop-loss, but they must meet a number of requirements to do so, and these requirements are often difficult to meet while on active duty.

The backdoor project also has negative consequences for people in services like the Navy and Air Force, as these people may find themselves ground-deployed due to Army personnel shortages. These personnel claim to have signed up for a specific branch of service and do not appreciate the transfer to make up for a shortage of troops. They are often promised rear positions that are supposed to be less dangerous, but find themselves on the front lines in unfamiliar territory and in situations they are not trained to deal with.
Many civilians were unaware of the stop loss policy until after Gulf War II was well underway and soldiers began protesting the policy; Presidential candidate John Kerry used the term “draft backdoor” in 2004 in a speech designed to draw attention to the issue. With a draft, the military can safely keep itself well stocked without attracting public attention as a full-scale draft would, and many people argue that this makes it easier for the government to pursue military action, since the support Public warfare is typically undermined when a draft is in place.

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