WASHINGTON — The Army is getting a grudging response — or none at all — from hundreds of former soldiers it ordered back into uniform for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, although none has been declared AWOL.
Army officials said Friday that 622 people, about one-third of the 1,765 Individual Ready Reserve members who were supposed to report for duty by Sept. 28, failed to show up. Some requested more time. Others wanted to be excused entirely. Some have not responded at all.
The no-show rate is about what the Army anticipated when it announced the call-up in June, and officials said Friday they believed some no-shows eventually would turn up.
That the Army has had to reach this deeply into its store of reserve soldiers is a measure of the strain the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have put on the active-duty Army. When the U.S. invading force toppled Baghdad in April 2003, the Army thought it would be sending most of its soldiers home within months. Instead, it has kept 100,000 or more there ever since.
‘Pretty much on track’
Brig. Gen. Sean J. Byrne of the Army’s personnel office told reporters that the Army was “pretty much on track” to getting the 4,402 Ready Reserve soldiers it expected to need to fill positions in active-duty and National Guard and Reserve units by next spring.
However, another official, Robert H. Smiley, said at the same news conference that it was too early to rule out the possibility of expanding the call-up to reach the 4,402 target.
“We’re going to have to track this on an almost daily basis,” Smiley said.
Smiley also said a separate call-up of several thousand more was likely next summer or fall because there would be more slots to fill in the force that rotates into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006.
Members of the Individual Ready Reserve are rarely called to active duty. The last time was in 1990, when nearly 20,000 were mobilized. Members are people who were honorably discharged after finishing their active-duty tours, usually four to six years, but remained in the Ready Reserve for the rest of the eight-year commitment they made when they joined the Army. They are separate from the reserve troops who are more routinely mobilized — the National Guard and the Reserve.
The Army anticipated, based on experience, that about a third of the people it called up would be disqualified for medical or other reasons. The trend so far bears that out. Thus the Army is calculating that it will take 5,765 call-ups to get the 4,402 it needs.
No AWOLs declared yet
A separate problem is those who simply refuse to report. Byrne said he did not know how many had refused, but he disavowed recent statements of other Army officials that at least six no-shows had been listed as Absent Without Leave, or AWOL. He would not say how much leeway the Army would give no-shows before they were declared AWOL and subject to prosecution.
“We’re trying to deal with every individual case to make sure that we’re giving everyone appropriate time to rectify whatever situation they may have,” Byrne said. “No one is considered AWOL at this point.”
A total of 3,899 Ready Reserve soldiers have been contacted since July and given a report date as late as March. Of that total, 1,498 have asked for a delay or an exemption based on a wide range of issues, including medical, financial and personal problems, officials said.
The Army has approved about 350 of those requests and rejected 26, said Raymond Robinson, chief of staff for the Army’s top uniformed personnel officer. He said that the 26 had been told to report for duty and that it was not clear what would happen if they did not.
Of the 350 or so approvals, 239 were for outright exemptions, meaning they would not have to come on active duty, Robinson said. As an example, Smiley cited a person who was already in Iraq as a Defense Department civilian employee. Others have been exempted for personal financial hardships and for medical reasons.
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