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Activated NG, Reserve Numbers Dip
Associated Press  |  March 16, 2006
WASHINGTON - The ranks of National Guard and Reserve troops on active duty for Iraq and the global fight against terror has fallen to just under 118,000, the lowest level since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq three years ago.

The reduction is a welcome trend for America's citizen-soldiers, who have been called to combat duty in numbers not seen in decades and who were further strained by last year's hurricane relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.

The driving reason for the drop, Pentagon officials say, is that more active-duty combat units like the Army's 4th Infantry Division are returning to Iraq after extensive reorganizations. Guard and Reserve units, the bulk of whom are in Iraq and Afghanistan, were filling more combat positions while the active-duty force was being reconfigured for the kinds of conflicts the Pentagon expects in the years ahead.

The Pentagon says the decline in Guard and Reserve call-ups also reflects that some troops whose specialties make them among the most frequently deployed have served their required time.

Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said some "high demand" units such as military police, military intelligence and special operations forces have completed their 24 months of mobilization time. This means they are no longer available unless they volunteer.

The military says it does not expect the two-year mobilization limit to create a major problem unless the United States becomes involved in another major conflict.

One reason: the Army is shifting more military police positions from the Guard and Reserve to the active-duty force, so there will be more flexibility for the Army to use MPs without having to go to the reserves.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced it was sending an additional 700 U.S. troops into Iraq in response to the recent upsurge in sectarian killings and in anticipation of more violence at a time of a Shiite holiday.

As of Wednesday, the number of Guard and Reserve from across the military who were on active duty had dropped to 117,988. That is the lowest number since the Iraq war began in March 2003. The peak was in April 2003, at 224,528.

The number on active duty in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, troops who have borne much of the burden in Iraq, has slipped below 100,000 for the first time in that period, according to Defense Department statistics.

At some points during 2005, the Guard and Reserve represented nearly half of the total force in Iraq. They are now down below 20 percent.

Under the legal authority by which Bush ordered a call-up of the Guard and Reserve on Sept. 14, 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks three days earlier, as many as one million could be mobilized for as long as 24 months.

So far, a little over 490,000 have been mobilized, according to Lt. Col. Bob Stone, a spokesman for the Pentagon office of reserve affairs. Of that total, only 29,201 have served to the 24-month limit, and all of those have done so voluntarily, Stone said.

The numbers for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve have fluctuated from about 148,000 on active duty at the start of the war to peaks of 164,000 in January 2004 and 162,000 in January 2005. The number stood at 97,593 as of Wednesday.

The Marine Corps Reserve has seen an even bigger decline, proportionally. Its total has been cut nearly in half, from 13,000 in mid-March 2005 to 6,957 last week.

Over the past several months, Marine Reserve deaths in Iraq have followed suit, plunging from an unusually high monthly total of 22 last August to one in September and one in October. Since then not a single Marine Corps Reserve death has been reported.

For the military as a whole, the 117,988 Guard and Reserve members on active duty on Wednesday compares to just over 136,000 at the start of this year. Last March it was 183,366.

When the Iraq war began on March 19, 2003, the total number of Guard and Reserve on active duty was 212,617.

At the start of the Iraq war, large numbers of Guard and Reserve troops from all services were already on active duty. That was mainly for the war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, and as part of stepped-up domestic defense of the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that year.

The Air Force Guard and Reserve, for example, had more than 14,000 on active duty in January 2003 and by July of that year there were more than 33,000. In March of last year that figure had fallen to about 10,000 and now it is below 8,000.

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