WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney authorized yesterday the call-up of an additional 72,500 National Guard and reserve troops to serve in Operation Desert Shield, an action certain to affect civilian life throughout the nation.
The new authority, which does not require the approval of Congress, more than doubles the number of citizen-soldiers the Pentagon may call to active duty. The Army is expected to call up more of the 122,500 guardsmen and reservists now available than any other branch of the military.
The order came less than a week after President Bush ordered a massive buildup of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. The announcement last Thursday did not detail where the more than 200,000 additional troops would come from, although it did mention the possible deployment of 12,000 combat reservists.
Almost all of the remaining 60,000 reserve slots permitted under the new mandate probably would be filled by reservists trained in combat support functions such as engineering services, supplies, communications and military police.
The heavy reliance on reservists in the projected new wave of deployments underscores the military's heavy reliance on National Guard and reserve forces during an emergency. It is also expected to provide a stern test of that dependence.
"Today's armed forces are designed with combat support . . . built into the reserves," Mr. Cheney said in announcing the new authority yesterday. "As we increase the deployment of active-duty forces, we must also call upon more members of the National Guard and reserve."
In August, Mr. Cheney authorized the services to call to active duty a total of 50,000 National Guard and reserve troops. To date, the military has called up 36,073 such forces, and several thousand Air Guard and reservists have volunteered for duty in the gulf. All of those called have been specialists in combat support.
The expected call-up of thousands of "weekend warriors" is certain to leave employers throughout the country with sudden gaps in their work force.
In search of cost savings over the past decade, the armed services have shifted the burden of supporting any large-scale deployment of forces to such citizen-soldiers. As a result, most of the medical personnel, combat engineers, communications technicians and administrators the military would need during a conflict would be drawn from guardsmen and reservists in the civilian sector.
Also yesterday, President Bush notified Congress that he was extending for an additional 90 days the call-up for reservists already serving 90-day stints in the gulf.