San Diego Union Tribune

June 30, 2004

Army to call up former soldiers
5,600 from Ready Reserve likely to see action overseas

By David Hasemyer
and Otto Kreisher

The Army disclosed yesterday it is preparing an involuntary recall to active duty of about 5,600 former soldiers who have either retired or been discharged, a signal that the service is stretched thin because of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some defense analysts and members of Congress said the activation of the reservists, known as the Individual Ready Reserve, reveals how much trouble the Army is having sustaining its commitments with an active-duty force of roughly 500,000 troops. It marks the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War that the Army has called on the Individual Ready Reserve in substantial numbers.

"I think it's another indication that the Army is overstretched and under strain," said Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Those recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve are likely to be assigned to Army Reserve units that have been or will soon be mobilized for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Army is pinpointing certain skills in short supply, such as medical specialists, military police, engineers, transportation specialists and logistics experts. Those selected for recall will be given at least 30 days' notice to report for training, according to an Army statement.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force do not have plans to make similar call-ups.

"There is no Navy involvement" in the activation, said a Navy spokesman. Added a Marine spokesman: "This is not a consideration for the Marine Corps at this time."

The differences in the services' actions reflect how deeply the Army has dipped into its reserve force.

The latest Pentagon data show 136,460 reservists have been activated. The Army frequently must integrate reservists with its active-duty forces, but it rarely has to reach into the Individual Ready Reserve. The Army has about 117,000 people in this category of reservist; the Navy has 64,000, the Marine Corps 58,000 and the Air Force 37,000.

Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, cited the Army's earlier action to extend the tours of thousands of soldiers in Iraq after completing their expected year of combat and the call-up of several National Guard units for Iraq service.

"These are indicators that the Army is experiencing difficulty maintaining this size deployment," he said.

The Army is still reviewing lists of reservists subject to recall. The military plans to give those selected a chance to appeal their recall for hardship reasons.

It was unknown yesterday how many former soldiers living in San Diego County would be affected.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan research group Center for American Progress, said it "shows how overstretched they are and how foolish (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld was not to allow the Army to expand over the last couple of years."

Korb, a former active and reserve Navy officer who was assistant secretary of defense for readiness and reserve affairs under former President Reagan, compared the activation to the Army's action of using "stop-loss" authority to hold thousands of soldiers on active duty after their enlistments expired.

"These are volunteers who thought they had served their time," he said. "It seems totally unfair to me."

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she has supported efforts in Congress to add 40,000 troops to the Army's strength.

"This IRR call-up demonstrates that need," Davis said in a statement released though her office. "This action also demonstrates the need for greater international involvement in Iraq to ease the burden of the brave men and women serving there."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was returning from Iraq and could not be reached for comment. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was also unavailable.

Members of the Individual Ready Reserve are former enlisted soldiers and officers who have some military service obligation remaining but who chose not to fulfill it in the Guard or Reserve.

The calls-ups probably will be met with enthusiasm and not grumbling, said John Smith, a former Army medic and a past chairman of the United Veterans Council San Diego County.

"I can tell you there is a lot of talent in the veteran community, and many of the guys will be willing to go back," he said.

Unlike members of the National Guard and Reserve, individual reservists do not perform regularly scheduled training and receive no pay unless they are called up.

That's one of the issues that makes this recall unique, Smith said. He likens being called out of civilian life into the military to that of a skilled pool player who no longer plays the game.

"You're sharp while you're playing, but once you stop, you get rusty, so it takes a while to get back to your skill level," he said. "That's what'll happen in this case with people called back to duty. It'll take them a while to get back to their skill level."

In January, Rumsfeld authorized the Army to activate people from the Individual Ready Reserve, drawing on presidential authority granted in 2001.

In May, the Army began looking in detail at the pool of people available. Most of those called up will perform support and logistical jobs.

That makes sense to retired Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Neil of San Diego.

"My sense is that they probably need certain people in specialty categories simply not available or in limited supply," he said.

Neil cited specialties such as electronics and aviation for which it takes years to develop an expertise.

"When there is a shortage of these people in the service, they just can't dip into the ranks," Neil said. "Sometimes it takes years to accomplish the training. So that's why they turn to this ready pool of talent."