By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – With Army recruiting on track, some military families want to know when the success will allow the service to halt its unpopular practice of keeping soldiers in deploying units past their separation dates.
"If they are so high, I'm wondering if they are getting these recruiting goals, why are they still stop-lossing?" asked Krishonda Craft, a 4th Infantry Division wife, after reading a front-page story with the headline "Army ahead of goal for recruiting troops" in Thursday's Killeen Daily Herald.
"Thousands of people are wondering about this," Craft said. "It seems it doesn't get talked about."
Craft said her husband, whom she preferred to be identified as an infantry corporal, was kept in the Army last year as the 4th Infantry prepared for a second yearlong deployment to Iraq. The division moved out in November, taking Craft's husband with it.
Cpl. Craft returned Thursday to Forward Operating Base Kalsu in Baghdad after spending a two-week rest and recuperation leave with his family in Texas.
The two weeks were a valued time for the couple, who have weathered more separation than togetherness in their five-year marriage.
Craft and her then-1st Cavalry Division soldier were married May 1, 2001, eight days before he left for a 13-month tour in Korea. He returned to Fort Hood in mid-2002, this time to the 4th Infantry.
Six months later, Fort Hood's involvement in Iraq began. By April 2003, the 4th Infantry was on its way into Iraq, a belated entry to the U.S.-led invasion. Craft's husband and the division remained in Iraq until April 2004.
Wanting to get on with their lives and be able to spend more time together, Craft said her husband tried to leave the Army. But like many in the division, he was prevented from doing so as the all-volunteer Army expanded its stop-loss program in May to include an estimated 7,000 of the returning soldiers that year.
The new orders were an expansion of similar orders Nov. 13 that affected more than 110,000 active-duty soldiers whose units were on orders to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. The orders, Army leaders said, were necessary as the post-Cold War Army, which had been trimmed by about 500,000 soldiers and two divisions, struggled to meet increasing mission commitments.
Since the practice began, Army figures show more than 50,000 soldiers have been kept in past their time. Current measures are retaining about 12,500 soldiers.
Described as a "short-term fix" by Army leaders, critics have countered that the negative effects will be longer lasting.
"As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank earlier this year.
"When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you're edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism."
Craft said she didn't go into the marriage blind. Living in Killeen, she knew there would be separations.
"Of course, when you sign up, you know you could be shipped to Iraq, Afghanistan," she said.
But it was their choice, and they were willing to make it as long as it remained theirs; stop loss took away the choice.
"This is like a draft. They're telling him this is what you are going to do even though he has done his time," Craft said. "When you are being stop-lossed, you don't have a choice. It's like a back-door draft."
There may be some good news for Craft and other soldiers hoping to separate or retire before another mission takes them away.
Sgt. Maj. Merle Henry, command career counselor for the 1st Cavalry, said Wednesday that this year's recruiting and retention successes were beginning to have an effect.
Faced with pending departures to Iraq for several units within the division and unofficial preparations for the remainder of the division to follow, Henry said the practice has not been as widespread this time around for the 1st Cavalry.
"We will actually have less stop-loss soldiers when we go this time than when we went last time," said Henry about the division's first deployment that began in April 2004. "We are getting better."
Still, the stop-loss experience has left Craft unwilling to wait around.
"Whenever they lift it, he is going to get out," she said.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com