5,600 Troops from Army’s Individual Ready Reserve Called Up
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: Todd Parrish and Collette Doyle are busy making plans– an August wedding, decorating their new house, his new career as a civil engineer. But all that, except for the wedding, went on hold when the army called him back to active duty for Iraq.
TODD PARRISH: I sat there and I read it, and then I read it two or three more times outside at the mailbox.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: You couldn’t believe it?
TODD PARRISH: It was hard to take it all in at one time, yes.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Because the army needs more soldiers for Iraq and Afghanistan, it has had to call up 5,600 people who are in what’s called the Individual Ready Reserve, or IRR.
The army IRR is a pool of 114,000 former soldiers who have fulfilled their active duty commitment, but they still have some time left– usually three to six years– on the individual contracts they signed when they joined the army.
SPOKESMAN: Snipers on top of 12.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Unlike guardsmen or reservists, members of the IRR aren’t paid and they don’t train on weekends; they simply have to keep their address current with the military in case they are needed for an emergency.
SPOKESMAN: As soon as your first checkpoint…
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They are also rarely called up. A few hundred were tapped after 9/11, but there’s been no major call up since the first Gulf War, when 20,000 were deployed. The army’s director of personnel, Gen. Sean Byrne, explained why they’re needed now.
BRIG. GEN. SEAN BYRNE: Our world has changed since 9/11. Our army has changed since 9/11. We’re more deployed. I would say we are stressed. The army is stretched.
We are not stretched too thin, but that’s why we’re… exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing right now. We’re maximizing every soldier we have, every capability we have. We’re trying to… we’re putting everything on the table and possibly utilizing them.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But some people think the IRR call-up is a sign that army soldiers are spread too thin around the world, and charge the administration with poor planning going into the war. Defense analyst Lawrence Korb was in charge of military personnel in the Reagan administration.
LAWRENCE KORB: When you call up the individual ready reserve this late in the war, it’s measure of desperation. It’s one thing to call them up right after Sept. 11 when it took you time to recover from the shock, but the fact that you are calling them up three years into the global war on terrorism is evidence of a lack of planning to deal with the new threats.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Korb is not alone in his criticism. At a recent hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were critical of the Pentagon.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: We’re also concerned that insufficient force structure and manpower are leading the services to make decisions that I liken to eating the seed corn. That is in order to make it through today, we do things that mortgage the future.
REP. IKE SKELTON: We’re managing this conflict with stop-gap measures as if the end is near. We’re asking very few to exert an enormous sustained effort for the good of all of us here in our country.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Pentagon’s David Chu defends its policies.
DAVID CHU: I don’t want to call these measures “last resort.” These are measures that keep the burden equitably shared among the various components of our American military, and I think that is the way we would sustain this over a long-term future, if that is, indeed, the requirement.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Many on Capitol Hill want the army to permanently increase its ranks by about 40,000 soldiers. But Pentagon leaders say they have enough people; they just need to retrain some to fill the jobs that are in constant demand, like military policing. In the meantime, Gen. Byrne says calling up reservists is the quickest way to fill the gaps.
BRIG. GEN. SEAN BYRNE: They have volunteered at least once. They understand, and for the most part, they’re great patriots and they’re ready to serve.
The global war on terrorism is real. We’re fighting in a number of different regions, and everybody that has a commitment to the army needs to be ready to stand up.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Parrish thought he had stood up for his country. He fulfilled his eight year army contract by first serving four years as an artillery officer.
He then resigned his commission and did four more years in the IRR, but the army says because he did not resign a second time at the end of that four years, he can be mobilized.
BRIG. GEN. SEAN BYRNE: Officer’s commitments continue unless they physically resign their commission. That’s public law. That’s why he is still in this pool.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Parrish says he didn’t know he had to formally resign when his term was up, so he has filed for an exemption.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: According to all this paperwork, how long can they keep you if they do, in fact, go through with this?
TOD PARRISH: Well, on the original order, it states up to 365 days, but with the sort of stop-loss that they have coming and going, if it go be… I mean, technically I could be there indefinitely.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Parrish’s lawyer calls the case an example of an illegal draft. If parish does not receive an exemption, he will have to report for duty three days after his wedding.
COLETE DOYLE: Just how much this one person have to give? He spent four years in ROTC in college, and he spent four years in active duty serving his country and four years in the IRR, where we had to live with the fact that he might be called to active duty, and now we thought he was done.
You have to look at, does he need to serve more? Do they need people so much that they have to call back people that are finished? ( Cheers and applause )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The call-up of the IRR is just the latest in a series of measures that the army has taken to keep adequate forces in Iraq. Last week, 2,300 soldiers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, Louisiana, received a hero’s welcome nearly four months after they were scheduled to come home.
Their deployment had been extended because of manpower shortages. Many in the unit who were eligible to leave the army before the deployment could not do so because of stop-loss orders that had been placed on them. And for the first time since World War II, the elite trainers at the joint readiness training center have been deployed to fight in a foreign war. Normally they are permanently based at Fort Polk, to train soldiers for battle.
They’ve been replaced by an Illinois National Guard unit, which itself will have to be trained. In addition to all of these measures, next month the Pentagon will officially announce a new program called “blue-to-green.” Both the Air Force and Navy are cutting jobs, so the Army will offer incentives for affected sailors and airmen to join up.
SPOKESMAN: How’s it going, sir. How can I help you?
SPOKESMAN: I’d like to check in please.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Meanwhile, thousands of former army soldiers are watching their mailboxes to see if they will soon be mobilized. Tom Weston joined the IRR when he got back from four months of active duty in Iraq last year.
He says he’s not surprised the army is using all measures to find more troops, because when he served, it was clear there weren’t enough soldiers. He was sent there as a gun turret repairman, but he was also used for guard duty, pulling two eight-hour shifts every day.
TOM WESTON: The job that I was doing I wasn’t even supposed to be doing that job was just… you could definitely tell that we do not have enough people over there, and that they were stretched very thin.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Did the other soldiers that you worked with feel like the same way?
TOM WESTON: Yes ma’am. That was the feeling all around and were just, like I said, we were stretched very thin for what we were doing.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: His wife, Elona, a reporter for a local newspaper, says worrying about a possible ready reserve call-up has put their lives on hold.
ELONA WESTON: It’s not so much anxiety. But it’s kind of like you’re in college and you live in a dorm and you can’t hang a picture on the wall with a real nail. And you have to use poster putty. That’s how it is. We never can do anything permanent — no big purchases or no babies — you know, until this is over. Until his window is over.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: To ease the uncertainty, tom may actually reenlist in the Army, a move which he thinks would give him a little more control of his future.
Some critics of the IRR call- up say not only is it not fair to bring these former soldiers back, it’s also dangerous since for many it’s been years since they’ve had military training or any kind of fitness requirements.
LAWRENCE KORB: You don’t know what kind of shape they’re in. So the very fact you’re relying on them means you’re taking a risk, particularly when you have to deploy them quickly.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So this is potentially a dangerous situation?
LAWRENCE KORB: I think it’s a very risky situation both for the individual and for the country because if you put an individual into a circumstance for which they haven’t been trained, the chances of something going wrong increase exponentially.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Gen. Byrne says IRR soldiers will only be deployed after passing a medical test, a basic skills update, and any other necessary training.
BRIG. GEN. SEAN BYRNE: Those that require the training that specific skill sets, say infantry or logisticians, they will go to another location, another post, where they will receive formal training to bring them up in their individual skills.
Once they complete that training we’ll integrate them into their units at wherever their unit, their reserve or guard unit, is mobilizing, and they will go through the collective training that they need to be a full member of that team.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The first of the 5,600 IRR soldiers will begin reporting for duty next month.