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Gates makes good on promise to end controversial 'stop loss' policy

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
  • "There are no Army soldiers stop-lossed," Gates says
  • The policy kept people in uniform past their end-of-service date
  • About 120,000 soldiers have been subjected to stop loss orders, the Pentagon says

Washington (CNN) -- From nearly the beginning of his tenure as secretary of defense, Robert Gates set his sights on ending a controversial practice in the U.S. Army known as "stop loss." Wednesday he announced he's done it.

"There are no Army soldiers stop-lossed," Gates announced at a Senate hearing.

"Stop loss" is the Pentagon's policy of forcing some service members to stay in uniform beyond the date they expected to leave the service.

It's used during times when the Pentagon needs as many troops as possible, such as at the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

As far back as 2007, just months after taking over as defense secretary, Gates said about stop loss: "It is an issue. It troubles me. And I think it is a strain. "

But he couldn't eliminate it because tens of thousands of soldiers, many of them experienced sergeants, would have left the Army if not for stop loss. But in March of 2009, he announced that the practice would be phased out by 2011.

And according to an Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Timothy Beninato, as of May 31 there are no more soldiers under stop loss, except for approximately 131 who were previously stop-lossed and are now hospitalized or receiving rehabilitation resulting from wounds or illness incurred while on duty in "a hostile fire" area.

One way Gates was able to get rid of stop loss was by increasing the number of soldiers in the Army as a whole, to 570,000 on active duty. But that number will soon go down as well. Beginning in 2015, Gates said, the Army should be able to reduce its "N-strength" by 27,000 soldiers.

All told, about 120,000 soldiers have been subjected to stop loss orders, the Pentagon says. Under federal law, each of them is entitled to $500 for each month they were stop-lossed. Of those 120,000, about 14,000 still haven't filed a claim for the money they are entitled to.

The Defense Department has a web site that makes filing a claim for stop loss pay very easy: