Cover: Assessing Stop-Loss Policy Options Through Personnel Flow Modeling

Assessing Stop-Loss Policy Options Through Personnel Flow Modeling

Published Apr 7, 2014

by Stephen D. Brady


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Research Questions

  1. What are the advantages of stop-loss, and what characteristics of an alternative policy could best preserve these benefits?
  2. Which characteristics affect the alternatives' unit fill performance positively or negatively against the stop-loss baseline?
  3. How do bonuses and their acceptance rates affect the unit fill performance of alternatives that include this option?
  4. What is the impact of deployment cycles on each policy alternative?

The practice of stop-loss retains soldiers who are scheduled to end their voluntary terms of active service during an impending or ongoing deployment. Because stop-loss keeps soldiers in their units, it generally fills deployment needs in the least amount of time possible and minimizes the budgetary impact of added recruitment, training, and personnel reassignment. However, the benefits of stop-loss come at an undeniable price in the form of direct and indirect costs to the Army and individual soldiers. When the Office of the Secretary of Defense began reexamining the Army's stop-loss policy, it put forth a set of potential alternatives. This briefing documents the detailed manpower flow simulations used to address each of these proposed alternative policies, focusing on their quantitative effects on deployed-unit fill, personnel stability, and individual deployment tempo for the active enlisted force. The analysis compared the options for two military occupational specialties that have very different representations in the force: 11B (infantryman) and 92Y (unit supply specialist). The same tests were also performed on the force as a whole, using a composite, or mix, of specialties. To enrich the discussion of the effects of a new stop-loss policy, the study also considered — in combination with limited changes in accession — brigade combat team cycle lengths and the number of units being rotated into theaters. Early results supported the policy review process, and the decision to suspend stop-loss for the active Army was consistent with the study's findings. The ultimate utility of this research is in describing and documenting these considerations in view of their likely value if and when stop-loss is considered in the future.

Key Findings

Quantitatively, Stop-Loss Is Efficient for Easing High-Priority Needs

  • Because the practice of stop-loss keeps soldiers in their units, it generally fills deployment needs in the least amount of time possible and minimizes the budgetary impact of added recruitment, training, and personnel reassignment.
  • Besides bolstering head counts with the soldiers who are generally best matched to their jobs, the practice promotes unit personnel stability by helping to keep intact the units that have trained together for missions. It also keeps in check the extended recruitment and reassignment activities needed to maintain a deployed force during periods of extraordinary demand.

Alternatives to Stop-Loss Have Costs That Must Be Traded Off Against the Benefits of Stop-Loss Cessation, but Some Stop-Loss Alternatives Allow Acceptable Fill Performance

  • The benefits of stop-loss come at an undeniable price. Involuntary extensions can incur hardships on individual soldiers and their families. Stop-loss may also impose indirect costs in the form of psychological and social reactions among those who are stop-lossed, which could be detrimental to cohesion, morale, and other aspects of unit performance.
  • Detailed manpower flow simulations of proposed alternative policies found that the most viable non–stop-loss options included incentivized short reenlistments. For example, at the two tested acceptance rates (25 percent and 50 percent), the decreases in deployed-unit fill relative to that under stop-loss were quantitatively modest and suggested an effective alternative to stop-loss.


  • It is recommended that stop-loss be shelved in favor of incentivized short reenlistments for soldiers originally scheduled to separate. Levels of reward for reenlistment should target at least the 25-percent acceptance rate evaluated in the study.
  • In the long run, shortened brigade combat team cycles and reductions in the number of rotations should be sought. These operational changes can augment — and ultimately replace — the interim stop-loss alternative of short reenlistments.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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