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The New Military?
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American Troop Strength

American troop strength is still close to the lowest levels since the beginning of the Cold War — the high for active duty Army personnel was reached in 1968 at 1,570,343. In December, 2004 that figure stood at 494,112. The Armed Services are thus increasingly relying on National Guard units and on the Army and Air Force Reserves. NOW reported late last year on the unprecedented role played by National Guard troops in the Iraq conflict — reservists and guards comprise over 40 percent of the total troop strength. In 2005, the U.S. Army is still desperately short of troops to fight in Iraq.

Worries over recruitment and re-enlistment rates have made headlines across the country. New incentives have been put in place — a signing bonus can now reach up to $15,000 and college benefits for the Regular Army have been raised to $70,000 from $50,000. The Army has added hundreds of recruiters to its corp as well. Some critics say the Pentagon's policies to keep up troop levels — including the "Stop Loss Order" and calling up of Individual Ready Reserve — are going too far. Learn more about the struggle to maintain troop levels below.

Individual Ready Reserve Call-Up

In June of 2004, the Army made headlines when it announced that it would begin to call up Individual Ready Reservists (IRR) to serve in Iraq — some 5,600 IRRs were expected to receive orders to report for duty.

Reserve forces are broken into several categories. The "Ready Reserve," liable for active duty under U.S. Code 10 12301, includes both the Selected Reserve and the Individual Ready Reserve. The Selected Reserve is comprised of members assigned to Reserve organizations and performs annual training. They are considered to be on active status.

Individual Ready Reserve members, like former Major Rick Howell, profiled in NOW's "The Call Up," primarily consists of "individuals who have had training, have served previously in the Active component or the Selected Reserve, and have some period of a military obligation remaining. IRR members are in an active status, but do not perform regularly scheduled training." The Standby Reserve consists of personnel who maintain their military affiliation but are only subject to involuntary active duty under full mobilization orders from the President.

The Stop Loss Policy

National Guard and Army Reserve members are also affected by the ongoing Stop Loss Policy, which allows the Pentagon to keep soldiers whose enlistment is due to expire in order to maintain troop strength and unit integrity. The restrictions bar voluntary separations and retirements for soldiers in designated units beginning 90 days before deployment until 90 days after their units return to their home stations. Specifically, "the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States." A Stop Loss order for National Guard and Reserve units activated for the war against terrorism has been in effect since November 2002. Army officials announced June 1 the latest Active Army Stop Loss/Stop Movement Program for active Army units preparing for deployment overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom which remains in effect.

A lawsuit, Doe v. Rumsfeld, was filed against the Stop Loss Policy in August of 2004 in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of an Army recruit who served nine years on active duty, most recently in Iraq. The plaintiff is currently a reservist in the California National Guard. The suit contends that the plaintiff only signed up for one year, and that the stop loss could force him "to return to Iraq for up to two years, and possible continued military service beyond that time." Some critics have referred to the Stop Loss policy as a "backdoor draft."

On February 7, 2005 a federal judge on dismissed another lawsuit challenging the stop loss policy. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth for the District of Columbia ruled that the enlistment contract does notify those who sign up that the government could extend their terms of service and that similar claims "could lead to substantial disruption and diversion of military resources."

The GAO released two reports on September 15, 2004 which specifically address the issues faced by today's Reserve forces and National Guard. "Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Address Long-term Reserve Force Availability and Related Mobilization and Demobilization Issues," states that the "[Department of Defense's] implementation of a key mobilization authority to involuntarily call up reserve component members and personnel policies greatly affects the numbers of reserve members available to fill requirements." The other report warned "Military Personnel: DOD Needs More Data Before It Can Determine if Costly Changes to the Reserve Retirement System Are Warranted."

Active Duty Military Personnel Strength Levels
(data from the Department of Defense)
Fiscal Year Army Navy Marine Corps Air Force
1950 593,167 380,739 74,279 411,277
1955 1,109,296 660,695 205,170 959,946
1960 873,078 616,987 170,621 814,752
1965 969,066 669,985 190,213 824,662
1970 1,322,548 691,126 259,737 791,349
1975 784,333 535,085 195,951 612,751
1980 777,036 527,153 188,469 557,969
1985 780,787 570,705 198,025 601,515
1990 732,403 579,417 196,652 535,233
1995 508,559 434,617 174,639 400,409
2000 482,170 373,193 173,321 355,654
Dec. 2004 494,112 370,445 177,207 369,523

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