WASHINGTON - It could be a long weekend for thousands of former soldiers. The Army says it will begin notifying more than 5,600 of those soldiers next week that they are being involuntarily recalled to active duty and could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan as early as this fall.
"There's going to be soldiers who, yes, will be shocked," said Col. Debra A. Cook, commander of the Army's Human Resources Command and the final arbiter of petitions for exemption.
Most of the former soldiers recently left the Army as truck drivers, mechanics, supply clerks, administrative clerks or combat engineers. All will be kept on active duty for at least 18 months but not longer than two years. The first formal notifications are due to arrive in mailboxes on Tuesday.
The call-up will be done in three increments from July to December.
It is the first large-scale use of former soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve since 1991. But it is not the first time the Army has dipped into this category of reserves for Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld authorized the Army to do so in January. As a result, small numbers of former soldiers have been called up, with little or no publicity.
Tom Bunch of Chillicothe, Ohio, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that his 29-year-old son Jon, of Madison, Wis., was called up from the IRR in April and is due to fly to the Gulf on Friday.
The younger Bunch was an active-duty artillery officer in 1998-99 and then spent three years in the National Guard. The Army contacted him early this year about transferring from the IRR to the National Guard or Reserve, where, it was implied, he would be less likely to wind up in Iraq.
"He thought he'd take his chances," so he stayed in the IRR, where his military commitment was due to expire next June, the elder Bunch said. "He didn't know if they were blowing smoke."
Members of Congress were informed Tuesday of what the Army called a "potentially emotional and historic" decision to reach deeper into the Individual Ready Reserve.
Some leading Democrats cited it as evidence that the Bush administration had underestimated the length of time and number of American troops it would take to stabilize and rebuild postwar Iraq.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the mobilization was "a clear signal that we need to provide more troops to the overburdened U.S. Army." Skelton has led a push to increase the size of the active-duty Army, which Congress has mandated at 482,400.
Once notified of their call-up, reservists will have 30 days to report to a mobilization station for administrative and medical checkups, then be sent for refresher training in their specialty before heading to Iraq or Afghanistan.
The call-up is the first sizable use of the Individual Ready Reserve since 20,277 were mobilized during the 1991 Gulf War. Before that, the only other such call-up was in 1968 during the Vietnam War.
Army officials said Wednesday another call-up for Iraq and Afghanistan is likely next year.
"We expect to call some more," possibly thousands more, for Iraq and Afghanistan, said Robert Smiley, the Army secretary's principal assistant for troop training, readiness and mobilization.
The state with the most IRR soldiers getting called this time is Texas, with more than 500, followed by New York, Florida, California and Pennsylvania. Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman, said exact numbers for each of the 48 states affected (all states except Alaska and Hawaii) are not available because the Army has not pinpointed the number it will call by state.
People in the Individual Ready Reserve are distinct from the National Guard and Reserve because they do not perform regularly scheduled training and are not paid as reservists. They are eligible to be recalled in an emergency because they have not finished their reserve-duty commitment.
Some members of the Individual Ready Reserve have been aware for weeks that the Army was screening members of the reserve pool in search of volunteers to fill positions in Army Reserve and National Guard units, and growing numbers have concluded they should quit the IRR.
Cook told a Pentagon news conference that in just the past two months about 2,000 transferred from the IRR to either the Army Reserve or the National Guard, apparently in the belief that the switch would make them less vulnerable to getting mobilized. Asked how the 2,000 figure compares with a normal amount of transfers during a two month period, Cook said it represented a "spike."
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