War in Iraq Temporarily Keeps Military Personnel From Quitting Service

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Roland "Frenchy" Dubreuil figured 26 years in the service was enough. He planned to retire on his 45th birthday this summer, pursue a master's degree in counseling and start a new career.

The war in Iraq interrupted those plans.

Dubreuil, who runs the legal office at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, was ordered to stay put indefinitely when the Air Force this month listed his job as one of 99 categories considered critical to the war in Iraq.

Dubreuil said the delay in his career change is a minor inconvenience compared to the disruptions the war has caused other families. "A lot of people are sacrificing," he said.

The policy, announced March 14, affects personnel scheduled to leave the service between May 2 and Dec. 2. The U.S. Marine Corps announced a similar "stop-loss" action recently, prohibiting all personnel from quitting in the next 12 months.

The Army announced in February that active-duty soldiers whose units were part of a war plan involving Iraq would be prevented from leaving the service. The Navy ended a limited stop-loss action on Dec. 31 and has said that another isn't necessary.

The Air Force directive applies to more than 8,100 personnel worldwide in jobs ranging from air crew to linguist. In all, 43 officer and 56 enlisted specialties are affected -- active-duty, reserves and Air National Guard.

Those with unusual circumstances can apply for a waiver.

"We take stop-loss seriously," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper. "We'll use it only as long as necessary to accomplish our mission."

Senior Airman Emily Butali, 23, works in the public affairs office at Eglin. After more than three years in the service, she was looking forward to getting out in December and starting college. Now she may have to put her future on hold.

"Right now there's hope because it's still early," Butali said. "That's how I'm looking at it. I still don't know. If we get closer and it's still this way, then there's reason to worry."

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought a blanket stop-loss in all areas of the military. For the Air Force it lasted about eight months, according to Master Sgt. Randy Mitchell, spokesman for the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

The Air Force is meeting or exceeding its annual goals for retaining airmen, but stop-loss is still necessary to make sure people in jobs critical to the war effort are around as long as they're needed, said Jennifer Stephens, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

"We need to have that expertise on hand to do the missions we're being asked to do," she said.

Marcus Corbin, senior analyst with the Center for Defense Information, said periodic stop-loss actions have become relatively common, and traces the practice to the birth of the U.S. military.

"If you want to go back, it's nothing more than involuntarily extending the volunteers' terms of service during the Civil War, and it can even goes back to the American Revolution," he said.