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. Ã¢€œWe just continue to work with them, reminding them of their duty,Ã¢€ 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 The Army has failed to reach 386 of the reservists, often because of invalid or outdated addresses or phone numbers.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 Ã¢€œduty, honor, countryÃ¢€ 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. Ã¢€œIt’s sensitive because we understand they’re different soldiers.Ã¢€ 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 Ã¢€œsets a bad precedent, especially for those in the IRR who have accepted the call to serve,Ã¢€ 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.