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Law & Order: The Detail About Stabler's Military Career That Makes No Sense

Over the course of 12 seasons of "Law & Order: SVU" and one season of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," Elliot Stabler has amassed a lot of backstory. He's experienced marriage, fatherhood, and tremendous loss. He served in Desert Storm. He's helped his mother and daughter live with bipolar disorder. Stabler's career is one of the most varied of any TV cop: Often on thin ice due to his anger issues, Stabler leaves the Special Victims Unit in Season 13's "Scorched Earth." After his sixth on-duty shooting, Captain Cragen tells him he needs to see a psychologist if he wants to keep his job, as well as take anger management classes. Though he's already working on his anger issues off the job, Stabler decides to quit the force rather than look inward on company time.  

In the Season 22 episode "Return of the Prodigal Son," however, we find out that rather than retiring, Stabler has been working for the NYPD in Rome, as part of their organized crime task force. It doesn't really make sense that the NYPD brass would see Stabler's shooting record, personnel file, and anger issues and say, "This is the guy we should have represent us internationally!" But you can't get in the way of a good spin-off, so we'll let that slide. What makes no sense, on the other hand, is Stabler's military record. 

How could Stabler have served in Operation Desert Storm?

Before joining the force, Elliot Stabler served in the U.S. Marine Corps. His tattoo, which depicts the Marine Corps emblem, is often shown. In the Season 6 episode "Goliath," Detective Munch mentions that Stabler served in Operation Desert Storm. But that makes no sense, as Stabler was already a detective by then. Operation Desert Storm was a 42-day offensive which took place in 1991. According to Season 1's "Wrong is Right," Stabler had already joined the police force by the time 1986 rolled around, and became a detective in 1992. What gives? 

It's possible that Stabler went from the Marine Corps to the force, then signed back up briefly for Desert Storm. Harry Bosch did something similar on "Bosch" by leaving the LAPD to re-enlist in the U.S. Army Special Forces after 9/11. But Bosch was already a detective when he took his leave. Stabler made detective in 1992, which would have been very hard to do if he'd ducked out for a quick jaunt to Kuwait in '91. 

Still, Stabler doesn't have the most confusing military history, as far as TV characters go: That honor probably belongs to Abe Simpson. Over the course of "The Simpsons," Grampa Simpson has claimed or been shown to have served in every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Well, except Space Force — but give it a season or two, and he'll get there.