By Tom Philpott: Military Update
The intensity of violence in Iraq, with insurgents attacking roads and bridges and interrupting supply lines, is behind the rare involuntary recall of more than 5,600 soldiers who had completed active duty obligations, says Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff.
Cody told the House Armed Services Committee that the recall alert July 6 for 5,674 Individual Ready Reservists (IRR) — former soldiers living as civilians and awaiting expiration of service obligations — resulted from “worst case” deployment plans following a rise in violence in Iraq.
Most of the IRR members to be recalled are combat support troops including truck drivers, heavy construction equipment operators and engineers with skills to repair bombed roads and buildings. The Army is having trouble getting civilians to fill such assignments, Cody said.
House committee members, disturbed by the surprise IRR call-up, pressed Cody and David Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, for an explanation at a July 7 hearing.
IRR service, said Chu, “is part of the obligation that each entrant in the military assumes. The fact that it is rare that we call up the Individual Ready Reservist does not, of course, mean that it is inappropriate.”
Typically, service members complete active or reserve drill obligations and then round out a total eight-year obligation in non-drill status of the IRR. Recalling IRR members, said Chu, “allows us to fill holes” in activated reserve or National Guard units.
They can take the place of members found medically unfit or lacking skills sought by combatant commanders. Some IRR members were activated for the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, Chu said.
But Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., said this involuntary recall “has gotten the attention of the American people.”
Why, Snyder asked, didn’t the Army anticipate skill needs a year ago and tap active or drilling reserve personnel?
Cody blamed a surprising level of violence in Iraq, which forced changes in deployment requirements several times over the last year.
Force planners track troop rotations with designators like OIF-1 for the first major rotation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
OIF-2 is winding down to be replaced by OIF-3 units starting this summer.
“We executed the worst-case plan for OIF-2, and we are executing what ended up being the worst case plan, in terms of numbers of formations, for OIF-3,” Cody said.
“That put stress on the combat service support troops, in particular heavy equipment drivers (and) engineer units.”
Damaged roads and bridges have been factors, he said.
“We had to keep more truck drivers over there because the level of violence was such that you couldn’t get (civilian) contractors to do some of that stuff. That, quite frankly, is what drove us to have to go back to more transportation units the second time, that we didn’t plan on, and more engineering units the second time, that we didn’t plan on.”
Though 5,674 IRR soldiers received alert notices, the Army likely will recall only 4,000. They will serve 18 to 24 months.
Other skills involved are in logistics and vehicle mechanics. They also are cooks, carpenters, masonry specialists, petroleum supply specialists and cable system installers.
Snyder sounded mystified that the list has 15 musicians including “one euphonium player, two trumpets, one trombone, four clarinets, three saxophones, one electric base player.”
“Is there not a way to do without the euphonium player?” Snyder asked.
Recalling IRR band members is not a surprise, Cody said, given the workload of supporting funerals and memorial services, primarily for aging generations of veterans from World War II and the Korean War.
At the urging of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., committee chairman, Cody acknowledged that the Army can benefit from a provision in the House-passed defense authorization bill to raise active duty strength by 30,000 soldiers — 10,000 a year over three years.
The Bush administration wants only a temporary increase, Chu said.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: