1st Sgt. Taj Russell
Sgt. 1st Class Taj Russell talks with Spc. Arvinette Brooks about her reenlistment options on Contingency Operating Station Falcon July 24, 2010. Prior to deployment, Soldiers who are nearing their end of contractual service date can willingly reenlist for the length of the unit's tour. They may then leave the service after redeployment under a new deployment extension program.

BAGHDAD - "If you ever talk to a civilian who got out of the military, they will tell you the one element civilian communities are missing is cohesiveness."

Sgt. 1st Class Taj Russell, the senior career counselor for 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, said when it comes time for Soldiers to decide whether to continue their military service or return to civilian life, sometimes it is that camaraderie that keeps them in the military.

"During a deployment, that cohesiveness and camaraderie with the unit is even more visible because you are here every day with your comrades and you get closer to them," said Russell.

In the past, a program called "stop-loss" allowed deploying units to retain Soldiers beyond their end-of-service contract date in order to maintain a full force during the tour.

Those Soldiers put on stop-loss were then given additional payments each month after the end of their contractual service date while on the deployment. They were also offered the opportunity to reenlist while downrange.

1st Advise and Assist Brigade, currently deployed in Iraq, is one of the last brigades here to participate in the stop-loss program. Within the brigade, 487 Soldiers were identified on the stop-loss program.

During the first few months of the deployment, 171 of those Soldiers have reenlisted.

"Once Soldiers deploy, things do change," said Russell. "I think Soldiers come over here and have that camaraderie with their peers and that's one reason they stay longer."

Sgt. Xia Vang, a medic with Company C, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st AAB, was stop-lossed during this deployment.

"I had been thinking about reenlistment for a while, but I didn't really give it much consideration until the time came," explained Vang, a native of Santa Rosa, Calif. "I am older now; I have a degree. I was thinking that maybe I can use the military to help me get a second degree. Since I have already invested four years, I can apply it towards retirement instead of starting over in the civilian sector. Stop-loss helped to increase the pressure for me to consider my options."

Although Soldiers cannot deploy under stop-loss any longer, a new deployment extension program is in place. With the new program, Soldiers who are nearing their end of contractual service date can willingly reenlist for the length of the unit's deployment and then leave the service after redeployment.

"The Soldier feels like [there is] a choice now. They can choose either to go with their unit or not," explained Russell. "That is definitely important to Soldiers - for them to feel like they made a decision that they played some part in."

Reenlistments are a large part of a Soldier's career. No matter the programs offered, reenlistment is a Soldier's decision about their future, and a matter Russell doesn't take lightly.

"The personal benefit for me is knowing that, in some form or fashion, we have helped a Soldier to get what they wanted out of their reenlistment," said Russell.

"Whether it be location, bonus, or just to help take care of their family, I always tell a Soldier that by being in the military, they have a career. So I think that when they look at it long-term, they know they made the right decision. The biggest benefit that I get is knowing that [I] and my counselors have helped a Soldier make a life-altering decision."

"I have a great group of counselors that care about Soldiers and care about their needs. If you take care of Soldiers, the mission will take care of itself. So we focus on taking care of Soldiers."

Page last updated Thu August 5th, 2010 at 03:25