December 27, 2006
Army Calls Up Unsuspecting Reserves To Fill Ranks
By Gary Rotstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Joe Kramer returned Nov. 28 from hunting in Clarion County, Pa., where he found no deer, to find at his Stanton Heights home a letter from the from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, which instructed him to report for active duty.
His mobilization at Fort Benning, Ga., the letter said, will be part of service "not to exceed 0545 days unless extended or terminated by proper authority."
Kramer, a 31-year-old, suit-wearing legislative aide, is about to resume camouflage and battle gear as Sgt. Kramer. On Jan. 14, he will join thousands of Individual Ready Reserves soldiers recalled to active duty since the start of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict.
Some ready reserve troops are regular Army reservists and National Guardsmen, with recurrent part-time training. Others, like Kramer, enlist for active duty, serve four years, receive a discharge, forget the military, but still face waiting out another four years in which they may be recalled at any time.
Most (Kramer included) don't expect to be reactivated, and most aren't. But with the Army struggling to maintain its force of 110,000 soldiers in Iraq and another 30,000 in anti-terrorism campaigns overseas, the service has been tapping into this pool of battle-tested soldiers at a rate of more than 2,000 annually.
It's sometimes known as the "back-door draft" adopted but rarely used following the Vietnam War as a way to replenish the all-volunteer military during critical periods.
In the buildup overseas since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Army sought only voluntary call-ups among a pool of some 100,000 IRR soldiers in 2001 and 2002, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army personnel spokesman. Involuntary activations of 2,300 troops took place in 2004, 2,500 in 2005, and a similar number this year, he said. The Marine Corps has also used ready reserve activations, but to a lesser extent.
Although the obligation of returning to war is part of the contract soldiers sign upon enlistment, it's jarring for those who figured they'd left behind drilling, rations, chain-of-command orders and life-threatening perils.
And yet, the Army's formal order spurred the graduate of Shaler Area High School and the University of Pittsburgh to do something he'd delayed: get married. He and Jocelyn, a lawyer, had been high school sweethearts, dated off and on for years and jointly bought the house they have lived in since July 2005. They figured to be married sometime in 2007, maybe somewhere overseas, but with the prospect of Joe's returning to a war zone they decided to wed in a hastily arranged ceremony on Dec. 14.
He presents an interesting mix of emotions, opinions and background related to this particular war, and it is no coincidence that he was eager to call attention to the U.S. military's need for people like him.
He enlisted out of college, the summer before the Sept. 11 attacks and received a Bronze Star, for actions in a raid of a home in Mosul on Dec. 29, 2003. He feels a strong bond with other soldiers, and sympathy for those already required to make multiple tours of duty in Iraq.
But after leaving active duty in August 2005, he joined a group of veterans critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war. He served on the national board of VoteVets.org, a largely Democratic political organization that worked this year to unseat Republicans in Congress with close ties to President Bush. He took a job in September 2005 as an aide to state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, a longtime anti-war activist for whom he previously interned when the senator was a city councilman.
Christine Wormuth, a senior fellow for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said use of the individual ready reserve troops "is reflective of the Army's challenge in trying to put together the sheer numbers it needs for Iraq, and also filling the particular skills it needs. In general, the Army hasn't used the IRR in that it is politically pretty unpopular. ... It's just a symptom of the Army being overstretched."
Although there have been no announcements of any increase in individual ready reserve activations ahead, President Bush took note of troop shortages in proposing that more military personnel be added to the 1.4 million already in uniform. The Army may add at least 20,000 soldiers to its current force of 507,000, by whatever means, although the budget for such additions is not yet approved.