Army recalling troops in Ready Reserve

Stretched thin by Iraq, military screening files for needed specialists

May 19, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The Army is scraping up soldiers for duty in Iraq wherever it can find them, and that includes places and people long considered off-limits.

The Army confirmed yesterday that it pulled the files of about 17,000 people in the Individual Ready Reserve, the nation's pool of former soldiers. The Army has been screening them for critically needed specialists and has called up about 100 of them since January.

Under the current authorization from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Army could call as many as 6,500 back on active duty involuntarily.

"Yes we are screening them and, yes, we are calling some of them up," said Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman. "We need certain specialties, including civil affairs, military police, some advanced medical specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons, psychological operations, military intelligence interrogators."

The Army has been forced to look to the Individual Ready Reserve pool and elsewhere for soldiers because it has been stretched thin by a recent decision to keep 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at least through 2005.

The Army is also considering a plan to close its premier training center at Fort Irwin in California so the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the much-vaunted Opposition Force against which the Army's tank divisions hone their combat skills, would be available for combat duty in Iraq.

In addition, the Defense Department announced this week that one of the Army's two mechanized infantry brigades in South Korea - about 3,600 soldiers - would be rotating to Iraq this summer to pull 12-month combat tours, an unprecedented move.

The Individual Ready Reserve pool is composed of people who completed their active-duty tours but are subject to involuntary recall for a period of years after leaving. A soldier who's served a four-year enlistment in the Army, for example, remains in the IRR for an additional four years. During that time he or she receives no pay and doesn't drill with a Reserve or National Guard unit.

Curtin said the fact that 17,000 files were being screened "is not a reflection of how many will be called back." He said the Army has 118,732 people on IRR rolls.

The last major call-up of Ready Reserve troops was in 1990 and 1991, before and during the Persian Gulf war, when about 20,000 were returned to active duty. In November 2001, the Army took a number of Ready Reserves who volunteered back on active duty, and it took volunteers and nonvolunteers in November 2002.

The spokesman said about 100 Ready Reserves had been recalled under the January authorization. About 7,000 have been recalled since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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