The Army is preparing to inform soldiers due to return from Iraq and Afghanistan over the next several months that they will not be allowed to retire or otherwise leave the service for 90 days after they return to their home base, defense officials said Monday.
The order, known as "stop loss," is a personnel management tool whose use reflects the difficulty the Army is having in keeping enough soldiers available to meet the Army's worldwide commitments.
Prior to the war in Iraq, "stop loss" authority had rarely been used; it is seen by many as being in conflict with the principle of an all-volunteer military in which enlisted personnel sign contracts for a specific period of service. It was first used in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Army has not officially announced the order, although Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin, commander of Army Accessions Command, told CNN last Friday that a new "stop loss" order was under consideration. Defense officials discussed some details of the new order Monday on condition of anonymity.
It is an expansion of a "stop loss" order imposed last November on the tens of thousands of soldiers who are scheduled to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan this year. They were told they may not leave the service during their one-year deployment abroad or for 90 days after they return.
Now the Army is applying the clamp to the soldiers who are scheduled to leave Iraq in a force rotation that begins this month and is expected to be completed by May. Temporarily prohibiting soldiers from retiring or quitting when their enlistment is up can be a hardship for those who had made plans to leave the service, but it does not extend their unit's stay in Iraq.
The order also prevents soldiers from moving to new assignments during the restricted period.
Among the first combat units to return from Iraq, beginning this month, will be the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
The other major units returning this year are the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry Division, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 2nd Light Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The expanded restriction also applies to the U.S. soldiers who are due to be replaced in Afghanistan this year.