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ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates has instructed all branches of the service to minimize the controversial “stop-loss” program, under which U.S. troops can be involuntarily kept in the service for deployments.

The policy allows each branch of the service to prevent troops from retiring or separating prior to deployments. Servicemembers can be kept in the service for three months prior to and following a deployment.

A total of 10,711 soldiers were subject to stop-loss restrictions as of Dec. 31, 2006, said Army spokeswoman Rhonda Paige.

As for the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, none have used the program since 2003, officials said.

In a Jan. 19 memo, Gates gave each branch of the service until Feb. 28 to get back to him on how to minimize the stop-loss program for both active-duty and Reserve component troops.

The memo does not say by how much Gates wants to cut down on the program.

“As the mission was just announced for each service to draft a plan to minimize the use of Stop Loss, Army is in the preliminary stages of that plan and will provide specific details once it has been completed,” Paige said in a Thursday e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

All branches of the service used the stop-loss program in the run-up to and during the Iraq war.

The Marine Corps instituted a stop-loss order in January 2003. By May of that year, when the Corps announced the restrictions would be lifted, the Corps had retained about 3,000 active-duty Marines and 443 reservists.

The Air Force, which used the program between September 2001 and August 2002, reinstituted the program again in May 2003, though it was lifted the next month again. At the time, the move affected an estimated 21,000 airmen in 99 Air Force specialties.

In April 2003, the Navy briefly used the stop-loss program in an effort to retain hospital corpsmen, but the stop-loss order was rescinded a month later, so only 139 corpsmen were affected, said Navy spokesman Lt. Justin Cole.

The Navy also kept 301 sailors in the service using stop loss between September and December 2002, Cole said.

The Army reinstituted the stop-loss program in January 2002 for the first time since 1990. In February 2003, the Army used the program to prevent soldiers slated to take part in the upcoming invasion of Iraq from leaving the service,

Later that spring the Army started easing stop-loss restrictions, finally lifting all such restrictions for active-duty soldiers by June 2003.

But the Army began reinstituting the stop-loss program that November, and since June 2004, all soldiers deploying to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been subject to stop-loss restrictions.

Since December 2003, a total of 34,138 active-duty soldiers have been affected by stop-loss, Paige said.

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