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U.S. Marines to Recall 1,200 Reservists to Iraq and Afghanistan

August 23, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: As we just reported, some 1,200 Marine reservists are about to be called up to return to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. The Pentagon announced that yesterday.

They are members of what’s known as the Individual Ready Reserve, Marines who have left active duty and resumed civilian lives but are obliged to serve if called. Most already have served at least one tour in Iraq. An additional 1,200 Marine reservists could be added to this involuntary call-up, and as many as 35,000 Marines could be ultimately subject to it under authority granted the president for the duration of the, quote, “global war on terror.”

Three perspectives now on this from retired Marine Corps Lt. General Carol Mutter. Her last post was deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.

Marine Reserve Sergeant Todd Bowers, he did two tours in Iraq and completed his commitment in the Individual Ready Reserve this year. He is a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

And retired Marine Lt. Colonel Gary Solis, he’s now a lawyer and law professor.

And welcome to you all.

General Mutter, why don’t you start out and explain for us, why are the Marines doing this now? Are they so short of manpower they need 1,200 more?

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER, Marine Corps: It’s not just a manpower shortage but a skills shortage. And there are certain skills that are required repeatedly that are fairly narrow skills, in communications, for example, and so on.

And so it’s a matter of finding where those people are with those skills. The Marine Corps looks at the total force, including the Reserves and the IRR. They have been using volunteers from the IRR, and the number of volunteers has been steadily decreasing. So now it’s a matter of going to an involuntary recall.

MARGARET WARNER: And explain for us, what is the difference between the IRR, or the Individual Ready Reserve, and just the regular Reserves in the Marines?

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER: In the IRR, there’s no requirement to show up for reserve drills as there is with the Reserves. They are just on call.

Now, there are face-to-face meetings now annually, but they’re not paid to come to drills and to stay involved. But it’s for the eight-year total contract. If you’ve served active duty for four years, you have another four years in the IRR, if you don’t go into the Reserves, Active Reserves.

Impact on Marines

Sgt. Todd Bowers
Former U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
Marines love what they do, and it's difficult to justify to your family that, "I'm going to go back for a third tour because I believe in what we're working on."

MARGARET WARNER: So, Todd Bowers, what's the impact on a Marine reservist of an involuntary call-up like this?

SGT. TODD BOWERS, Marine Reserves: There's two elements to sort of look at. You have your family that you have to deal with and also your finances, which is your job. What's very difficult is having to say good-bye to your folks and leave them for what could be up to a year.

To do that multiple times, it doesn't get easier each time. It doesn't become more routine. Actually, it gets more difficult. Marines love what they do, and it's difficult to justify to your family that, "I'm going to go back for a third tour because I believe in what we're working on."

MARGARET WARNER: Now, when you went into the IRR after your active duty, did you, and other Marines in your situation, did you do it with the expectation that really your active days were pretty much over and you could re-enter civilian life, a civilian job, and expect to be able to stay there?

SGT. TODD BOWERS: Well, my entire commitment -- I was six years as Active Reserves, which meant I did the two days a month and then two weeks a year. And then I dropped the two years of IRR time and Active Ready Reserve time.

What was hard for me was I was on Active Reserves when I was first deployed to Iraq. And then during that time, I dropped to the IRR. When I returned from Iraq, I just sort of bowed out and left the unit. It was when they started to redeploy that they said, "We are so short-handed for experience, anybody that's been to Iraq before, we need you to come back. We need help. We have the training set up to be able to train new Marines how to do your job, but we need people who have actually been in the country who have dealt with the Iraqi people and that can pass on these skills."

MARGARET WARNER: So you volunteered for that?

SGT. TODD BOWERS: I did. I volunteered for my second tour. It was difficult to see that they were heading back and, you know, not having those elements there.

Volunteering to return

Lt. Col. Gary Solis (Ret.)
U.S. Marine Corps
When you do it once, twice, three times, it becomes harder and harder. I mean, your family has a life, too. And there comes a point, even for Marines, where you have to reassess what's most important to you.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Colonel Solis, what does it say that, as the general just said and we heard the Pentagon official say, now they're not getting volunteers like Todd Bowers to volunteer to come back so they have to do it involuntarily?

LT. COL. GARY SOLIS, Marine Corps, Retired: Well, I think it's to be expected. As Todd suggested, when you do it once, twice, three times, it becomes harder and harder.

I mean, your family has a life, too. And there comes a point, even for Marines, where you have to reassess what's most important to you. You may have a small business that you're running. You may have school plans that you're engaged in. And those plans are all put on hold or entirely disrupted.

So what it says is: We don't have enough personnel to continually prosecute the war as we would like to. Just as gun tubes wear out, just as vehicles wear out, manpower can wear out.

MARGARET WARNER: So how serious do you think this is, this being overstretched in the manpower department? Is it just in a few specialties or is this indicative of something larger?

LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: No, as the general said, it's a few specialties, but they are critical specialties. And they are critical specialties without which things could break down. So it's significant, but I don't think it's critical, not yet.

Overstretched forces

Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter (Ret.)
U.S. Marine Corps
If you're at, in fact, the end of your obligated service, you're not subject to the IRR, and you should be getting out of the military, then that could be a back-door draft because we're being forced to stay longer.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think this says about the Marines and how overstretched they are?

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER: I think there's certainly stress and overstretching, perhaps. The forces are being stretched and stressed.

There are maybe -- people are also getting a little smarter because, if they volunteer to come back, they don't get all of the benefits that are given to those who are involuntarily recalled. And so I'm hearing also that some people are saying, "You know, I'd be happy to come back, but I can't volunteer to come back. I need to have the guarantee of a job once I get back out of the Marine Corps again, and that guarantee is only there if I'm involuntarily recalled." And so some of that plays in this, as well.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that the case, Todd Bowers, that you do get greater compensation? And does it make up for the compensation you're leaving in the private sector if you're involuntarily recalled?

SGT. TODD BOWERS: I think that the compensation is always an important element, but that's not really the factor that goes on here. You mentioned before talking about the certain units that are being called up.

I was part of a civil affairs unit, which is made up of 100 percent reservists. There's no active duty element of civil affairs, so it's a tremendous strain for us to try and keep up with these mobilizations. When that occurs, a lot of people leave in between deployments. We lost about 60 percent of our unit between our first and second deployment.

And to augment, they brought Marines that didn't have civil affairs as a specialty, and they spent three months spinning them up. The training was good, but there just wasn't the skill set. There wasn't the capability to have that experience.

MARGARET WARNER: And civil affairs is going out really in the community, really trying to deal with the population?

SGT. TODD BOWERS: Yes. The overall mission of civil affairs is to reduce civilian interference with military operations, and it's a very difficult job. It takes a different mindset to be able to do this.

So by taking people who have a different military occupational specialty that don't have experience in civil affairs and just augmenting these empty billets because people are tired of continually going, I think it has an ultimate impact on the mission in Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Some members of Congress have said that these kind of involuntary call-ups -- and the Army has a similar related thing called stop-loss, where you don't get to end your tour when you were due to end it. Gary Solis, they call it a back-door draft. Would you go that far?

LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: Well, yes, I think that it's not an unreasonable assertion, because you are taking individuals who otherwise would not be there and forcing them to come back. Obviously, a draft is not in the picture, but this is one of the few means that we have.

And after all, when a Marine signs up or anybody signs up, this is part of the deal. And if they read their contract, listen to their recruiter, they know that this is a possibility, but that doesn't make it any easier.

MARGARET WARNER: Back-door draft?

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER: I agree with Gary; it is a part of the contract. Now, a stop-loss may be a different thing. If you're at, in fact, the end of your obligated service, you're not subject to the IRR, and you should be getting out of the military, then that could be a back-door draft because we're being forced to stay longer. But recalling IRR, it's part of their contract. It's part of the total force.

A morale issue

Sgt. Todd Bowers
Former U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
You have some folks that have spent two years reintegrating into civilian life. And then all of a sudden they get a phone call and they're putting a uniform back on for the first time in two years. Nobody is prepared for that.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you this: Does it cause morale problems?

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER: I think it differs depending on the individual and their circumstances. Recognizing that this is a possibility and whether or not this is something that you really accept and have it right upfront in your mind that it's a real possibility, those are two different things.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Todd Bowers, how do you think it feels to the Marines that are called up? Does it feel like a back-door draft?

SGT. TODD BOWERS: I'm always scared of the word "draft," because, as you mentioned, it basically -- you volunteered for this time. So I sort of try and steer away from that.

Everybody has committed, and especially in the Marine Corps. They take a lot of pride in the time that they've committed. But with the IRR, I think it would be very difficult, because you have some folks that have spent two years reintegrating into civilian life. And then all of a sudden they get a phone call and they're putting a uniform back on for the first time in two years.

Nobody is prepared for that. I think it would have a really large effect on morale because it's so hard to bounce back from that and to basically get your affairs taken care of before you take off again.

MARGARET WARNER: And this is for 12 to 18 months?

LT. COL. GARY SOLIS: It is. I was talking to some friends at headquarters of the Marine Corps today, and they were telling me that, once this word got out, that they were recalling reservists. They had reservists who were calling, volunteering to come back. So there will be some of that; it's the Marine way.

LT. GEN. CAROL MUTTER: I think it's important, if you have to time, to note that also the Marine Corps is going to be doing this over time. They will give them five months' notice before they have to come back, report for active duty. And there are opportunities for deferments, as well, for special cases.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. General Mutter, Todd Bowers, Gary Solis, thank you, all three.

SGT. TODD BOWERS: Thank you.