WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than a decade, the Army is forcing thousands of former soldiers back into uniform, a reflection of the strain on the service of long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army officials on Wednesday announced that 5,674 former soldiers — mostly people who recently left the service and have up-to-date skills in military policing, engineering, logistics, medicine or transportation — will be assigned to National Guard and Reserve units that are scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. The first notifications are to be received July 6.
They will be put on active duty for a minimum of 12 months and mostly likely for 18 months. The Pentagon’s policy is to not keep troops in Iraq or Afghanistan for more than 12 months.
Robert Smiley, the Army secretary’s principal aide on troop training and mobilization, told a Pentagon news conference that more former soldiers, in addition to the 5,674, are likely to get called up next year. He said he could not estimate the number but would not rule out that it would be thousands.
Some soldiers will be 'shocked'
Col. Debra A. Cook, commander of the Army Human Resources Command, told reporters that although former soldiers in the reserve pool known as the Individual Ready Reserve are required to verify by mail every year that they are physically fit, many will be surprised to get called for Iraq duty.
“There’s going to be soldiers who, yes, will be shocked,” she said.
The Army did not immediately offer a state-by-state breakdown, but Raymond Robinson Jr., a senior personnel official at Army headquarters in the Pentagon, said many are from California and Texas.
People in the Individual Ready Reserve are distinct from the National Guard and Reserve because they do not perform regularly scheduled training and are not paid as reservists, but they are eligible to be recalled in an emergency because their active duty hitches did not complete the service obligation in their enlistment contracts.
It is the first sizable activation of the Individual Ready Reserve since the 1991 Gulf War, though several hundred people have voluntarily returned to service since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The Army is targeting its recall on those who recently left the service and thus have fresher skills than retirees. Any time the military calls on its reservists for wartime duty, political implications arise because of the disruption to civilian lives and businesses. In this case it may reinforce the perception among some that Iraq is stretching the Army too far.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that dipping into the Individual Ready Reserve amounts to conscripting people to fight in Iraq.
“If there was any doubt that this administration was conducting a pseudo-draft, this call-up should dispel that doubt,” Larsen said.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., President Bush’s presumed opponent in the fall election, has made similar complaints about the administration’s use of Reserves and National Guardsmen. After the Pentagon, stretched by war needs, declared a “stop-loss” this month to prevent the separation of troops, Kerry declared: “They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft.”
The Army said the Individual Ready Reserve members who are recalled will be given at least 30 days’ notice to report for training.
Vietnam veteran Chuck Luczynski said in an interview Tuesday that he fears his son, Matt, who is getting out of the Army after four years, will be called back as part of the individual reserves. The son returned home in March after a year’s tour in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, and he has plans to start a computer programming business.
“I think that’s on everybody’s mind right now, that they took their turn, and they would hope everybody took a turn so that a few don’t carry the many,” said the elder Luczynski, of Omaha, Neb.
Active-duty units' tours extended
The Army is so stretched for manpower that in April it broke a promise to some active-duty units, including the 1st Armored Division, that they would not have to serve more than 12 months in Iraq. It also has extended the tours of other units, including some in Afghanistan.
The men and women recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve will be assigned to Army Reserve and National Guard units that have been or soon will be mobilized for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, unless they successfully petition for exemption based on medical or other limitations.
In January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to activate as many as 6,500 people from the Individual Ready Reserve, drawing on presidential authority granted in 2001.
Not until May did the Army begin looking in detail at the available pool of people.
At that point some Army recruiters caused a controversy when they contacted members of the Individual Ready Reserve and suggested they would wind up in Iraq unless they joined a Reserve or Guard unit. Some complained that they were being coerced to transfer into a Reserve unit.
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