Facing its biggest mission since the 1991 Gulf War, the Air Force on Wednesday told 6,000 pilots, maintenance crews and other critical specialists that they are in uniform for the duration of the Kosovo campaign.
The order holds even though they were scheduled to retire or separate later this year.
Called ``Stop-Loss,'' the freeze on retirements and other voluntary separations takes effect June 15. It applies to job specialties held by about 120,000 of the 360,000 active duty Air Force personnel, as well as members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, and is expected to last at least as long as the air war in Kosovo continues.
What effect it will have at Scott Air Force Base was not clear Wednesday.
``It probably won't be until later this week at the earliest that we know exactly how it will affect us,'' said base spokesman Lt. Col. Janet Reese. ``They have to look at the list and put names to it and work with the commanders.''
About 700 officers and enlisted members separate or retire at Scott each year.
The list of job specialties frozen includes most pilots, but so far not those who fly Scott's C-9 Nightingales flying ambulances.
It also includes dozens of enlisted specialties, including maintenance, intelligence and support personnel.
In a message to the troops on the Air Force's Online News service Wednesday, Acting Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan said that the reserve call-up provides ``significant relief'' but it is still necessary to preserve critical skills and experience until Kosovo operations cease.
``We'll apply Stop-Loss only among those specialties needed to carry out our operations; we'll use it only when we need to; and we'll only use it for as long as necessary to accomplish our mission,'' they wrote. ``We'll frequently review the list of career fields subject to Stop-Loss; we will look at individual hardships caused by Stop-Loss on a case-by-case basis; and we'll do what we can to permit separations. In addition, when Stop-Loss terminates, we will work with those airmen whose lives have been disrupted to make sure that they can time their ultimate separation to avoid further disruption.''
Peters and Ryan said Kosovo operations have ``exceeded a major theater war level of effort.'
Pentagon planners say the current force is designed to handle two major theater, or regional, conflicts, such as the Gulf War, at one time. Critics say defense cuts have gone too deep and doubt the Pentagon could sustain two wars at once.
The only other time the services have implemented Stop-Loss since the creation of the all-volunteer military in 1972 was during Operation Desert Shield, the build-up to the Gulf War, in 1990.
Stop-Loss can only be initiated after a declaration of war, during a national emergency or when members of any reserve component are involuntarily called to active duty. Authority lasts only as long as the reservists or guardsmen are involuntarily activated.
When President Clinton signed the order April 27 activating up to 33,102 guardsmen and reservists, Air Force leaders said they would use Stop-Loss. But they gave few details until Wednesday.
The Army, Navy and Marine Corps have said they do not need to use Stop-Loss now.
The Air Force Personnel Center has activated a 24-hour Stop-Loss hot line at: (800) 558-1404, (210) 565-2949 or DSN 665-2949.
The Air Force Stop-Loss announcement with a complete list of the specialties affected is available at: www.af.mil/news/May1999/n19990526_991052.html
Originally Published, May 26, 1999, Belleville News Democrat, Belleville,
(c) 1999, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
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