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Possible Iraq Deployments Would Stretch Reserve Force
"Think about being away from your employer 18 months and the friction that causes back with the family. Do you have a job? Is your life on hold? . . . Do you not get that promotion?" he said. "It is now time that this needs to be fixed."
Strong recruiting last year by the Army Guard and Reserve has begun to rejuvenate units, but additional call-ups would still take a toll on the units' most critical personnel -- leaders and non-commissioned officers, many of whom have already served combat tours. "If there was another mobilization, leaders would have to make up their mind as to whether they will stay with the team," Vaughn said.
Heavy deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world have meanwhile cut into the available pool of Guard and Reserve manpower. About 260,000 Army Guard members and 160,000 Army Reserve personnel have been deployed under the partial mobilization declared by President Bush in September 2001, which calls up to 1 million reservists for not more than 24 consecutive months.
In practice, the Pentagon operates under a less demanding policy -- reservists' service may not exceed 24 cumulative months, instead of consecutive, and individuals may not be involuntarily deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan more than once. A change in that policy or a new presidential order could open up greater access to the reserves.
In Iraq, the Army used a major surge of reserve forces in 2004 and 2005 to provide relief for the active-duty combat brigades, to allow them to rotate home for longer periods and reorganize into more robust units. In 2005, the Army Guard and Reserve supplied 46 percent of all Army forces in Iraq, including seven National Guard combat brigades.
The Iraq war has also eaten up large quantities of the Guard's equipment. More than 64,000 pieces of equipment have been left behind in Iraq, contributing to a $24 billion equipment shortfall as Guard units have only an estimated one-third of their essential gear on hand, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Following the surge into Iraq, Guard leaders said they were told to expect that they would have a break to reorganize and rebuild. But Vaughn said the equivalent of six Guard brigades are now performing less visible security missions in Iraq as well as other missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Sinai Peninsula and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"We have folks in the military who stayed in the Guard not expecting to go back, and if they get called back that could affect our retention," said Maj. Gen. Roger P. Lempke, head of the Adjutants General Association of the United States. Lempke said serious discussions on new mobilizations would get underway this month.
"Army leaders are working extremely closely with each other to make sure the forces are able to maintain the tempo and address the needs of the different components -- active, Reserve and Guard," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.
National Guard leaders are also considering proposals to increase the size of the Guard, which has seen its ranks grow by 13,000 soldiers in the past year and is expected to reach its full congressionally mandated strength of 350,000 by March.
"The Guard has to grow if the long war is to continue, because we are going to hit the wall sooner or later," Koper said.