Pentagon Ends Reserve Call-up Limit
The Defense Department has removed the limits on the active duty call-up period for Reserve Component soldiers.
The Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty, officials said Thursday, a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq. The day after President Bush announced his plan for a deeper U.S. military commitment in Iraq, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the change in reserve policy would have been made anyway because active-duty troops already were getting too little time between their combat tours.
The Pentagon also announced it is proposing to Congress that the size of the Army be increased by 65,000, to 547,000 and that the Marine Corps, the smallest of the services, grow by 27,000, to 202,000, over the next five years. No cost estimate was provided, but officials said it would be at least several billion dollars.
Until now, the Pentagon’s policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members’ cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months, Pace said. In other words, a citizen-soldier could be mobilized for a 24-month stretch in Iraq or Afghanistan, then demobilized and allowed to return to civilian life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months. In practice, Pace said, the Pentagon intends to limit all future mobilizations to 12 months.
The idea that reservists should not be available throughout the duration of a conflict has long struck me as absurd. After all, they are fully integrated into the Total Force and are vital to the success of a mission. During most of our previous wars, soldiers were not released from the service until the end of hostilities. And that included draftees; today’s reservists are all volunteers.
That said, this is a policy that should be set by Congress, not the Pentagon.
UPDATE: Andrew Olmsted, an Army Reservist who has volunteered for active duty in Iraq, makes two cogent points:
The Pentagon is claiming they hope to keep tours to 12 months, but that’s not really possible without significant changes to how we operate. Right now, a unit mobilizes, moves to a mobilization station for training that usually lasts two or three months, then deploys to theater for twelve months. Tack on a month to bring them home and demobilize them and you’re talking 15-18 month tours as a more likely number, assuming they don’t allow RC units to serve shorter tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon may be playing a semantic game with the word “deployment,” meaning only the oversees time. But Andrew is correct to include all the pre- and post- operational time away from one’s regular job.
I don’t know what this will do to retention in the reserve component, but I believe it’s realistic to expect it to hurt it. It’s not unreasonable to expect the reserve component to have to serve a single two-year tour on active duty while the nation is at war. Expecting them to do so repeatedly is likely sufficient to have reservists asking why they shouldn’t either go full time or get out, since they’re going to spend such a great deal of time mobilized in any case.
I made much the same argument throughout the 1990s and early part of this decade. So far, though, the evidence all points the other way. Reserve soldiers who have been deployed to combat actually have far higher retention rates than their non-deployed cohorts. It seems that, burdensome as it is, “getting” to perform the duties for which one trains tends to reinforce the desire to serve.
At an anecdotal/visceral level, though, I still think it possible to “break” the Reserve system. When I left active duty to return to graduate school after the first Gulf War, I fully intended to join a drilling reserve unit and serve until retirement. By the time I got settled into school, though, George H.W. Bush and then Bill Clinton were deploying reservists–especially Civil Affairs, where it would have been most logical for me to serve–into a steady stream of missions of which I disapproved. I would have been willing, at age 27, to be deployed to combat against enemies of the United States; I was not, however, willing to put my life on hold to do nation-building.
Then again, anyone who has signed up since 1992–which is damned near everybody now serving–has done so with full knowledge of the mission set. I hear much, much less grumbling from men in uniform than I did in the early 1990s about “this isn’t what the military is for.” It may well be that today’s soldier embraces a different conception of military life than my generation.
Related posts below the fold.
Elsewhere: James Joyner, “Backdoor Draft?” TCS, 11 January 2005.
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