What is a Backdoor Draft?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2019
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The term “backdoor draft” is used to refer to a policy known as stop-loss, used by the United States military to involuntarily extend service contracts. Stop-loss was developed after the Vietnam War, and it has been used extensively since, most notably in the Second Gulf War, when military officials became concerned about personnel shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opponents of stop-loss refer to this policy as a backdoor draft to suggest that despite the fact that there is no official draft, a draft of sorts is going on in the United States.

When people enlist with the armed services in the United States, they sign an eight year contract which includes two to four years of active duty and four to six years in the reserves. After eight years, the soldier has reached the “end of service date,” meaning that he or she may re-enlist or choose to separate from the service. In stop-loss, a soldier who is on active duty will find his or her active duty extended into the period when he or she would normally serve in the reserves. If a so-called “end of service date” falls while the soldier is on active duty, the soldier will be forced to complete the deployment before being permitted to retire from the service.


The justification for stop-loss is that troop shortages are extremely dangerous, not only for the outcome of the war, but for troops on the ground. Soldiers who are already on active duty are obviously fully trained, making their retention extremely important to the military. Under stop-loss, the military can ensure that it has enough military members on active duty.

For soldiers, stop-loss is frustrating and disheartening. Many soldiers redeployed under stop-loss are not given time to relax and unwind from previous deployments, elevating their stress levels and risk of mental illness in the future. Multiple deployments are emotionally and physically draining, and for members of the reserves who have been deployed, the deployments can ruin the former reservist's business, as he or she is not present to supervise the operation of the business.

Stop-loss orders can be issued at any time, and often the timing of the order is such that the soldier has little opportunity to fight it. By law, soldiers may petition for separation after serving an additional year under stop-loss, but they must fulfill a number of requirements in order to do so, and these requirements are often difficult to fulfill while on on active tour of duty.

The backdoor draft also has negative consequences for people in services like the Navy and the Air Force, as these individuals may find themselves deployed on the ground due to a shortage of Army personnel. These personnel argue that they signed up for a specific service branch, and they do not appreciate being relocated to make up for troop shortages. Often, they are promised positions in the rear which are supposed to be less dangerous, but they find themselves on the front lines in unfamiliar territory and in situations which they are not trained to deal with.

Many civilians were unaware of the stop-loss policy until the Second Gulf War was well underway and soldiers started protesting the policy; Presidential candidate John Kerry used the term “backdoor draft” in 2004 in a speech which was designed to bring attention to the issue. With a backdoor draft, the military can quietly keep itself well stocked without attracting the public attention that a full-scale draft would, and many people argue that this makes it easier for the government to pursue military actions, as public support for a war is typically undermined when a draft is in place.


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Post 2

I can't believe the military can run short on infantry soldiers in combat situations, since I see so many young people signing up for military service at the local recruiting office. I guess what the commanders really want are experienced combat vets instead of young recruits who have only fired their weapons during basic training. I can understand that, but I also think when a soldier's time of service is up, the government should respect the original contract. Stop-loss should be an absolute last resort.

Post 1

I have a cousin who got caught up in a backdoor draft situation. He served two tours in Iraq and was making plans to get married and buy a house once his active service time was up. A month before he was due to come home, the Army got orders to ramp up an assault on a city held by Hussein loyalists. My cousin thought he was going into reserve status, but instead they called him back to active duty because of his specialty.

He was really upset about the situation, since he was only weeks away from a flight home. He had no choice but to remain in Iraq until the city was secure again. He had been considering making the military a career, but the stop-loss policy helped change his mind.

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