Call-ups imminent for many reservists

Tens of thousands likely to be activated in weeks

January 02, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In coming weeks, tens of thousands of National Guard and Reserve forces, from military truck drivers in South Dakota and engineers in Utah to Special Forces soldiers in Maryland, are expected to be called to active duty, part of a huge buildup aimed at forcing Iraq to disarm or face war.

The number could rise to more than 30,000 this month and swell to more than 200,000 throughout the winter, perhaps rivaling the 265,000 reservists called to active duty during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, military officials and lawmakers said.

"It is highly possible that the Guard and Reserve call-up could exceed 200,000 to meet present and future contingencies domestically and around the world in the coming months," said Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican and co-chairman of the Guard and Reserve Caucus, who met with top officials of the National Guard and Reserve last month.

The Pentagon now has about 54,000 Guard and Reserve troops on active duty, out of about 1.3 million reserve forces.

Some Pentagon officials caution that estimates of more than 200,000 Guard and Reserve troops for Iraq-related duty are exaggerated. Others say the exact number of reservists needed will depend upon the overall war plan, should President Bush decide to attack Iraq.

One military official said the number of Guard and Reserve troops that will be needed "depends on which portions of which plan get executed. ... It could easily get to [200,000], but you don't know until you get all the pieces together."

Army Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon spokesman, sought to play down talk of impending Guard and Reserve call-ups.

"We're not going to speculate [on] what will happen in one week or one day," he said. "Once they're called to active duty, we'll release the information."

Part of the reason for the large number of Guard and Reserve troops is to provide increased security at military bases in the United States and overseas, to guard against terrorist attack. Another stems from the special skills that reserves provide, everything from forklift operators to military police and cargo plane pilots.

Unlike the Vietnam War, when there was no general call-up of Guard and Reserve troops, it is impossible to wage war today without drawing on the standby forces.

In the Air Force, more than half the refueling planes and C-130 cargo aircraft are operated by Guard and Reserve pilots.

The Army, largest of the four services, with some 480,000 active-duty soldiers, also has the most Guard and Reserve forces, about 790,000. During the gulf war, Army reservists accounted for about 156,000 of the 265,000 troops called to active duty.

Among those being activated are 75 soldiers of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group from Glen Arm in Baltimore County, said Maj. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard. The Green Berets, who are split into six 12-man teams for operations, are set to leave Jan. 31 for processing at Fort Dix, N.J.

Kohler said the unit received a call-up order from the Army's Special Operations Command on Monday. After Fort Dix, "they could be going anywhere in the world," he said.

In November, about 30 members of the Maryland National Guard's Special Operations Detachment-Joint Forces, a unit that plans secret commando missions in enemy territory, deployed from the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the Army Special Forces 5th Group, whose area of responsibility includes Iraq.

Kohler said that there has been no word about any other Maryland units being activated, though it is likely that additional units could be called in coming weeks, particularly from combat support units of the Army Guard's 29th Division, which includes units from Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Among the other Guard and Reserve support units slated for deployment this month are the 727th Transportation Company, a 142-man unit from South Dakota that specializes in hauling equipment. Thirteen soldiers from the 789th Quartermaster Corps from Provo, Utah, a unit that stores and transfers petroleum, are being called to active duty Jan. 20, officials said.

Active-duty units are receiving deployment orders as well, including F-15 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, officials said.

The 3rd Infantry Division, a rapid deployment mechanized unit from Georgia, which now has 5,000 troops in Kuwait, is expected to send its remaining 10,000 soldiers in the coming weeks, officials said.

Other Army units expected to take part in any attack on Iraq include the 101st Air Assault Division from Fort Campbell and the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. At least four aircraft carriers are expected to be deployed, along with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

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