Army Not Punishing AWOL IRR Members

The Army has made a strategic decision not to punish Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when recalled.

Army Not Punishing Absent Special Reserve Soldiers (USA Today, p. 1)

Seventy-three soldiers in a special reserve program have defied orders to appear for wartime duty, some for more than a year, yet the Army has quietly chosen not to act against them. “We just continue to work with them, reminding them of their duty,” says Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.

The soldiers are part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a pool of about 110,000 inactive troops who still have contractual obligations to the military but are rarely summoned back to active duty. But an Army stretched thin by the demands of war in Iraq and Afghanistan began a phased call-up of 6,545 of those soldiers in June 2004.

About half have served. About one-fifth have been excused for reasons such as finances, family or health. The Army has failed to reach 386 of the reservists, often because of invalid or outdated addresses or phone numbers. But Lt. Col. Karla Brischke, who supervises call-ups, says some reservists may simply be avoiding the orders.

Only one officer is among the 73 soldiers who either ignored their orders or refused to serve. Brischke says Army staffers keep calling and reminding them of “duty, honor, country” and their need to fulfill their obligations.

Hilferty says the Army hasn’t acted in part because IRR troops have historically not been expected to serve. “It’s sensitive because we understand they’re different soldiers.” The decision to declare these soldiers AWOL or a deserter is up to their commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, the Army’s personnel management director. He could not be reached for comment.

Failing to punish those who disobey an order “sets a bad precedent, especially for those in the IRR who have accepted the call to serve,” says retired major general John Meyer Jr., the Army’s former chief of public affairs.

Both Meyer and Hilferty are correct. Soldiers in the IRR are legally required to show up but mostly don’t think of themselves as “soldiers” any more. Certainly, during the decade I was nominally in the IRR, I didn’t. Indeed, I routinely refer to it as “the Fantasy Reserves” (as in, “I was promoted to captain in the Fantasy Reserves but never wore the bars on my uniform”).

The IRR consists of soldiers who have served their obligation on active duty and/or the Active Reserves but have not completed the entire eight year statutory obligation all who volunteer for the military incur. Some continue to perform annual training and attend schooling in hopes of accruing enough points to draw a pension when they hit 62. Most of us, though, never put on a uniform again and never drew a paycheck after leaving active duty.

While it makes some practical sense, the idea that those who volunteer for three years of duty must actually be on the hook for eight years in an era where those who did not serve have zero obligation is morally problematic. This is especially true for enlisted soldiers, many of whom made the decision with very little information at the age of 17 or 18. Involuntary call-ups of those who served their initial obligation should not happen unless there is a national emergency of sufficient urgency that we are willing to institute a general draft.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. McGehee says:

    While it makes some practical sense, the idea that those who volunteer for three years of duty must actually be on the hook for eight years in an era where those who did not serve have zero obligation is morally problematic.

    Well, you know what the alternative is, and it’s been Charley Rangel’s wet dream for years now.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Kevin: I’d say an alternative would be to approach former soldiers with needed skill sets and entice them to come back with bonuses, promotions, or other incentives. Basically, they would do what they’re doing now but without the heavyhanded “you owe us” crap.

    I oppose a draft in other than the most exigent circumstances. Rangel doesn’t actually support a draft, either, but is touting one as a means of drawing attention to a tangentially related political agenda.

  3. kjafhj says:

    While it makes some practical sense, the idea that those who volunteer for three years of duty must actually be on the hook for eight years in an era where those who did not serve have zero obligation is morally problematic.

    FOR CRYING OUT LOUD–WE’RE AT WAR! Bush is a war president; the country is under the threat of total annihilation. We must see the big picture. These AWOL bums are hurting the security of our country. If they are not prosecuted, the terrorists will have a leg up on us. Send them to Guantanamo as an example!!!

  4. Hey “kjafhj,”

    If you believe the US invasion of Iraq is such a catastrophic security issue, you must be in uniform yourself right now.

    Otherwise you would have to be a coward.

    So instead of lurking here, why don’t you spend your free time working with everyone you know who agrees with your stance to get them into uniforms, too.

    Because unless you and everyone who agrees with you are in uniform right now, you’re all cowards.

    And if you’re too old, make sure your family and friends of military age are in the service. All of ’em. Don’t let someone else’s kids go for you.

    Or has the American Way become to sit on the couch typing in all caps shouting for someone else to protect our sissified selves from “total annihilation?”

    Walk the walk, people.

    And if you and everyone you know who agrees with you is in uniform, I appologize.

    But, ugh, these Chickenhawks…

  5. LJD says:

    Signed-up, sworn-in, took the money.

    Get out legally, or serve.

    Running away is a coward’s solution.