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.

OTB: Military Personnel, General

Army Short-Enlistment Option
Captain Brad Schwan Fighting Stop Loss
Don’t Dumb Down the Army
Join the Army or Go to Jail?
Reserve Captain Fulfills Contract, Can’t Resign
Army Stop-Loss Program Forces 50,000 into Extended Duty
Pentagon Report: Army Near Breaking Point
Pentagon Weighs Guard and Reserve Cuts
Myth of the Underprivileged Soldier
9th Circuit Won’t Stop Guardsman’s Deployment
Soldiers Sue over Extended Enlistments
A Military Stretched Thin
All-Volunteer Force?

OTB: Military Recruiting

Army Facing Officer Retention Crisis?
Army Shuns 75 Percent of Age Eligible Recruits
Counter-Recruiting Efforts Anger Pentagon
Military Recruiting Shortfall Hits Key Jobs Hardest
Military Attracting Fewer Black, Urban Recruits
Army Doubles Idiot Quotient
Army Recruiting High School Dropouts without GED
Defense Department Seeks to Raise Enlistment Age to 42
Pentagon Creating Student Database for Recruiting
Army Keeping Problem Soldiers to Keep Troop Levels Up
Army Using Video Game as Recruiting Tool
Army Offers 15-Month Enlistment Option
Army Taking Recruiting Holiday
Blue to Green Moving Slowly
Army Recruiters Say They Feel Pressure to Bend Rules
Recruiting Soldiers During Wartime Difficult
Military Recruiters Target Friends and Family
Recruiting During Wartime


Army Not Punishing AWOL IRR Members
Backdoor Draft? Reservists May Face Longer Tours of Duty
IRR Call-Ups Slow to Report
Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier
Reserve System Needs Change
Further IRR Call-Up Expected
IRR Call-Up Redux
IRR Call-Up Scam III
IRR Call-Up Scam II
IRR Call-Up Scam
IRR Call-Up?
Leaving the Military Reserves

FILED UNDER: Congress, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    James, my quibble with this is that this isn’t a war as far as no declaration of war was given. Let congress formally declare war and then take the reservists until the war’s over.

  2. James Joyner says:

    DCL: I would prefer that all de facto wars that the United States engages in by de jure as well. Whether because of the UN Charter or some other reason, however, we have not formally declared war since December 1941. That doesn’t make them non-wars, though.

  3. JimT says:

    This is going to end up being much more destructive to the reserves/national guard. As a reservist who was sent to Iraq for a year, I would rather have stayed there an additional year than go and come home only to go again. Once your life has been disturbed, you might as well stay as long as possible. It is all the stress of the change from civilian to military that is the hardest. Once your life, family, business, etc. is in the ‘deployed’ state of mind, the time gone (within reason) is easy. I dread more the months preceeding the next deployment than any convoy down MSR Tampa.

  4. M1EK says:

    This is a policy that should only be in effect in a constitutionally valid war – i.e., one in which Congress had to officially declare war.

    And yes, that does make the prior conflicts non-constitionally-valid wars. The theory that reservists give up all their rights indefinitely without regard to prior contracts at any time the Commander-in-Chief just says so is probably already making many of them rotate in their graves.

  5. LJD says:

    Not exactly accurate in regard to the legality of the contract. DD Form 4 states that:

    If I am a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force at the beginneing of a period of war or national emergency declared by Congress,

    …my military service may be extended without my consent until six (6) months after the end of that period of war.

    …I may be required to serve on active duty (other than for training) for the entire period of the war or emergency and for six(6) months after its end.

    As a member of the Ready Reserve I may be required to perform active duty …without my consent …as follows:
    (1) in a time of national emergency declared by the President of the United States, I may be ordered to active duty (other than for training)for not more than 24 consecutive months.

    I will leave the formal interpretation to the lawyers, but I read that a reservist can be called for 24 months at a time, but may not be discharged until after the “War”.

    Every enlisted soldier in the Army signed this contract.

  6. M1EK says:


    To me, the word “War” in this contract means “A constitutionally declared war”. We never declared war on Iraq. Even on semantic grounds, the AUTF didn’t call it a “war”.

  7. BrianOfAtlanta says:

    No declaration of war? Not according to Congress, specifically Senator Joe Biden, the guy who wrote the declaration:

    Here’s the relevant excerpt:

    “I’m the guy that drafted the Use of Force proposal that we passed. It was in conflict between the President and the House. I was the guy who finally drafted what we did pass. Under the Constitution, there is simply no distinction … Louis Fisher(?) and others can tell you, there is no distinction between a formal declaration of war, and an authorization of use of force. There is none for Constitutional purposes. None whatsoever.”

  8. Wayne says:

    My biggest apprehension is the active service integrating the NG and RC as a resource pool too much. They should use them for some supplemental purposes but to treat as the “if we need any units, we just take them from RC and NG” mentality can be harmful. I understand the arguments on both sides on how to use the NG and RC forces but worry if something really goes sour that we won’t have any forces to fall back on in a short period of time. Not that we don’t have plenty of forces not being used at any given time now but could run into problems in the future.

  9. M1EK says:

    I’d like to see Joe Biden defend that position against some actual constitutional scholars.

  10. Good post. I’ve linked to you here.