Greg Jaffe / Wall Street Journal – 2006-07-01 00:47:40
WASHINGTON (June 21, 2006) — The Army may be running low on support forces for Iraq and Afghanistan, with only about 34,000 troops of its Army Reserve force of 189,000 available for an involuntary call-up to active-duty service, officials say.
Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the chief of the Army Reserve, says the Reserve will be able to meet its commitments in the next year with the help of volunteers. The larger Army National Guard, which can be mobilized by governors for natural disasters or by the president for wars abroad, faces a similar strain to that of the Reserve, but not as severe, Army officials said.
The Army Reserve is focused primarily on critical combat specialties needed in nation-building, while the Army National Guard is built largely around combat formations similar to those in the active-duty force.
The heavier-than-expected use of the Reserve force in the past five years has put the Pentagon in a bind, say Army officials. A large percentage of those 35,000 soldiers eligible for involuntary call-ups are low-ranking enlisted soldiers. “Most of the officers and senior noncommissioned officers have already been mobilized,” Gen. Stultz said.
Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers can be called to active duty involuntarily for as long as 24 months for operations in Iraq or elsewhere. Once they have served that time, under Army regulations, they can no longer be made to deploy, but can still be sent abroad ifthey go voluntarily.
Currently, there are about 25,000 Army Reserve soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an additional 10,000 serving on active duty in the U.S. There are about 46,000 National Guard troops called up or serving on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Reserve includes many critical specialties such as military-police soldiers, truck drivers and most of the Army’s civil-affairs troops, who specialize in humanitarian aid and reconstruction. There are only 1,790 Army reservists left who are trained to serve as military police and only 2,530 transportation and logistics specialists. The force also provides vital specialties in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks in the US.
“Right now, we are dependent on heroes who are volunteering to go back for their second and third tour” of Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. Stultz said.
He noted that one Texas-based Army Reserve truck company was recently mobilized for its second tour in Iraq. About 60% of the 299 soldiers in the unit volunteered to go back. The Army is filling the remaining positions in the unit with new recruits, who can be mobilized involuntarily, and volunteers from other units.
But it is unclear how much longer the Army Reserve force can depend on volunteers. Some Army officials are suggesting that it is time to change the current policy, which caps involuntary call-ups at 24 months.
Senior Army officials say they would like to be able to call up Army Reserve and National Guard reservists for one year of active-duty service for every five years they are in the reserves. The current policy “was built for wars in which you mobilize, fight the war, win and come back home,” Gen. Stultz said. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t fit that model, he said.
A change in the policy could draw criticism from Democrats eager to reduce the size of the force in Iraq, or governors who depend on National Guard and Reserve soldiers for natural-disaster relief.
Gen. Stultz hasn’t formally suggested changing the policy, but some senior Pentagon officials say that if the U.S. continues to maintain 130,000 troops in Iraq and 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, the Bush administration likely will have to amend it.
The strain on the Army Reserve has been heightened in recent years by recruiting and retention shortfalls. Currently, the Army Reserve is authorized for 205,000 troops by Congress but is fielding a force of about 189,000.
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