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ALISON STEWART, host:

For this edition of The Week in Iraq, we wanted to get you the facts behind the military stop-loss policy, the subject of a new movie of the same name, due in theaters today.

(Soundbite of movie "Stop Loss")

Unidentified Actor: It's says here you have orders to report to the First Brigade.

Mr. RYAN PHILLIPPE: (As Sergeant Brandon King) Not me. I'm getting out today.

Unidentified Actor: Brandon Leonard King?

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As Sergeant Brandon King) Yes.

Unidentified Actor: Out to the First Brigade on the 22nd.

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As Sergeant Brandon King) This is a mistake.

Unidentified Actor: It's all there. You leave on the 22nd, shipping back to Iraq, subsection 1-2-3-0-5 title 10, on the authority of the president. You've been stop-lost.

STEWART: The film dramatizes the effects of these involuntary extensions. The policy was actually put in place back during Vietnam and has been applied to the current conflict in Iraq. We'll get a review of the film in just a minute. But if you're going to see the movie, or even if you've seen the trailer you know that it's a stylized account with a political point of view. So before you head to the multiplex, we want to arm you with the facts about "Stop Loss." Joining us is Ann Scott Tyson, a military reporter for the Washington Post. Hi, Ann.

Ms. ANN SCOTT TYSON (Reporter, Washington Post): Hi, there.

STEWART: So, let me start with the basics. Kind of, I gave a glossed over version of what stop-loss is. Could you explain it to us clearly?

Ms. TYSON: Yes. It's a program that allows all the military services to keep individuals on active duty beyond what's called their "date of separation," the date upon which they could leave or retire.

STEWART: How much longer can they be kept? ..TEXT: Ms. TYSON: Well, that is determined - that can be determined by the policy. There are two ways that it tends to be used and it has been recently used during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One is to retain people that have special skills, skills that are in short supply, that are highly demanded, perhaps special forces, intelligence people, people with all sorts of technical skills also.

Another way it's been used has been in a blanket fashion, to keep units together that are rotating over to these war zones. And in that case, currently, everyone is stop-lost in the Army at least 90 days before the unit leaves until 90 days after it comes back.

STEWART: And when did the stop-loss policy - when was it applied to the current conflict in Iraq?

Ms. TYSON: Well, it started in 2001. In September 2001, Don Rumsfeld, defense secretary, decided to start using the authority. In that time it was used more for the specialized skills. Then, after the Iraq war, in the fall of 2003, they started using it in a more blanket fashion for the Army units. Actually, I believe that started in January. They announced it, and it actually started in January '04. And that continues until today. And about several thousand people in the Army are currently affected by it.

STEWART: What was the reason given in January to apply the stop-loss?

Ms. TYSON: Well, they - again, they needed to keep these units together so that they could train part of the - there were other changes going on the Army to create what they called modular brigades that were sort of standardized. And they also wanted to try to keep people with their units anyway, for about three years, so that they would maintain this cohesion.

They wouldn't have people constantly coming and going. And they didn't want, you know, to have people sort of trained up together, and then have them leaving shortly before the unit was to deploy, because, you know, they simply couldn't get people to fill those slots.

STEWART: Now, the U.S. abolished the draft in 1973, yet some politicians have called the stop-loss policy a, quote, "backdoor draft," most notably Vietnam vet John Kerry during his run for the presidency in '04. Is "backdoor draft" a fair description? Or a political term?

Ms. TYSON: Well, I mean, all of the people currently in the military - it is a volunteer force, so they have volunteered to serve, but they haven't volunteered to serve for that long, necessarily. So it's sort of in a grey area, I suppose. I mean, these people aren't draftees. But clearly - and I've met many people in this situation - they would have been about to get out and then they're stop-lost, so they have to do like a whole another tour.

That could be a life or death situation, obviously. And it can be a significant extension of their service, especially now. You have 15-month tours, so you add, you know, 90 days onto the front and back of that. You know, and if you get stop-lost you know, right before you were about to get out, you're talking about, you know, a year - two years more of service that you didn't count on.

STEWART: And I have to imagine the impact that can be felt in the families at home, who thought people were coming home.

Ms. TYSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think for the families it's all about the separation and deployments, and you know, again, while many may be supportive, these unanticipated changes - I mean, either a sudden stop-loss or you know, extension of a tour, can be really devastating for the families. I think, I mean, one maybe positive thing about this is that it is blanket right now, and it is predictable. People know that it's going to happen, so there's sort of a resignation about it.

STEWART: Ann Scott Tyson is a military reporter for the Washington Post. Hey, Ann, thank you so much for explaining it to us.

Ms. TYSON: My pleasure.

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