Officers Fighting Army Reserve's 'Stop Loss' Policy

The Army Reserve has adopted a policy that bars some officers from leaving service if they haven't been to deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or for homeland defense. The low-profile policy, in place since 2004, means that at least 400 officers who want to won't be allowed to resign. Some of those officers are suing, arguing that they didn't sign up for permanent duty. The government argues that the Army Reserve is experiencing a personnel shortage, and that they have always had the right to keep reservists on after their mandatory eight years. Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post, talks with Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the Department of Defense has issued so called stop loss orders to thousands of troops. These keep soldiers from leaving the service if their units are overseas or if their skills are in high demand. The U.S. Army Reserve, fighting to meet recruitment goals, has found another way to keep its ranks filled. It's refusing to let some officials resign after they've served their mandatory eight-year terms. Some of these officers are suing. Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson is covering the controversy. I asked her how many officers have been stopped from leaving?

ANN SCOTT TYSON reporting:

There have already been at least 400, and that's since 2004, when the Army Reserve instituted these guidelines barring officers from resigning if they hadn't already served in Iraq, Afghanistan or in a homeland defense operation called Operation Noble Eagle, or if they were in a skill field that was under-manned, meaning less than about 80% full.

ELLIOTT: Now, the government says that under the law, reserve officers are appointment quote "for an indefinite term" at the pleasure of the President. Do these reservists who are suing have a case?

Ms. TYSON: Well, I think they do because that has not always been the interpretation, in other words, of that, that indefinite means they cannot be allowed to leave. The indefinite was initially created, their lawyers would argue, to allow them to not have to keep signing up, and it was also intended so that the President could let them go if they were no longer desired, not that they could be kept on indefinitely. That is the argument of the attorneys for these officers who are suing.

ELLIOTT: What does the Department of Defense say?

Ms. TYSON: Well, they argue that in fact the indefinite means just what it says. That indefinite can mean unlimited, permanent service if so desired.

ELLIOTT: Ann Scott Tyson is a staff writer for the Washington Post. Thank you for speaking with us.

Ms. TYSON: My pleasure.

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