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I cuddled down to watch a film last night and ended up watching the 2008 film Stop-Loss. Although it’s a film staring Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt it was one that passed me by  when it originally came out. And somehow I never read anything or heard much about it.

The story line is quite simple, after a tour of duty in Iraq a group of veteran soldiers return back to their home town in Texas. For  best friends Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) and Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) it is a return for good. As each of the friends try to find a way to settle back into normal life it becomes clear how the war has affect each of them.  On Kings last day of military duty his life is turned upside down when he is told he has been stop-lossed, basically his active duty of service has been involuntary extended.

I had never heard the term stop-loss before and as the film ended I sat down to research what the term meant and how it came about. I was appalled to learn that EVERY person who signs up for the military in the US signs an agreement that allows the military to extend their service involuntarily until “six months after the war ends unless the enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States”.

This basically means that after the eight year of duty a solider signs up for the military can just prolong their service on a whim. And they do, the figures I cam across where astonishing. Between 2001 and 2009 there where more than 145,000 soldiers said to be stop-lossed. They main reason for this was that the Bush administration evoke the stop-loss rule as they struggled to maintain troop strengths for the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of course there has been much controversial about the stop-law order since it’s inception after the Vietnam war. In 2004 the presidential candidate John Kerry called stop-loss a “back-door draft” and in 2009 Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates acknowledged that the practice of stop-loss was “breaking the faith” with the soldiers who volunteered to serve.  However Gates had already said in 2007 that he was going to reduce the use of the stop-loss order, but didn’t as it actually climbed by 40%. Thankfully Obama did keep his promise and on June 15th 2011, Gates told a Senate subcommittee that stop-loss had indeed ended.

I know I am behind the times in this matter but it still shocked me to learn that so many had been forced to serve longer than they signed up for. And as far as I can tell although the stop-loss order has been suspended it doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist, just that it isn’t being invoked. So forgive me for writing “behind the times”.

Stopping stop-loss, The New York Times 2009

Stop-Loss article from 2011