More than 5,000 veteran soldiers from 48 states will receive notices next week that they are being recalled to active duty to fill gaps in the Army, and Army officials announced yesterday that thousands more could be summoned for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army announced yesterday that it will dip into its Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of soldiers who have finished active-duty requirements but are contractually obligated to serve if asked. Reports that the Army will take that step were published beginning Tuesday night.
The Army's human resources command in St. Louis is screening 7,100 such soldiers. It wants a pool of 5,600 soldiers who could be notified, starting Tuesday, that they are going to deploy to war.
Army officials said they specifically need to fill 4,402 positions in active units that are scheduled to go overseas, mostly in areas that deal with combat-support elements such as mechanics, logistics and civil affairs. It is the first time since the Persian Gulf War that the Ready Reserve is being used to patch holes, and some members of Congress again said yesterday it indicates that the Army is stretched too thin.
About 4,000 soldiers also will be pulled away from their reserve and National Guard units to fill additional holes. Army officials said they are not sure how many more soldiers will be needed to fill holes for normal rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan next year, but put the number in the thousands.
"The planning for this operation in Iraq and Afghanistan has been poor," said Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. "The uniformed military has been fighting bravely and really doing their job. The job failure has been on the part of the administration and the president, in recognizing just how serious an operation this was going to be."
U.S. military commanders had expected by now to be reducing significantly the number of troops in Iraq -- more than a year after President Bush declared major combat operations over. Instead, the Army has increased its troop level, to 141,000, as the insurgency has become more violent.
Robert Smiley, principal assistant for training, readiness and mobilization in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army, said the move is a manpower management tool. He said the use of the Ready Reserve means that experienced soldiers can fill critical positions while the Army trains new enlistees to fill out other units.
"We must plan, manage and sustain the force in our continuing efforts to fight the global war on terrorism," Smiley told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that he does not think the Army is too small. "We're using a manpower pool that's available to us. This is good personnel management. We're looking down the road."
Col. Debra Cook, who heads the human resources command, said that mailgrams will be sent to the 5,600 Ready Reserve soldiers on Tuesday, and that orders to report to mobilization centers will follow within a few days. Each soldier will be assessed for health and readiness issues, then will go through about 30 days of training to prepare for deployment.
According to Army officials, about one-third of those who will be contacted reside in five states: Texas, New York, Florida, California and Pennsylvania. The rest reside in the other states in the continental United States, except for two who reside in Europe, they said.
Soldiers who have deployed to war within the past 12 months will not be considered for this tour, Cook said, but those who are reactivated could spend as long as 24 months on active duty, with as long as 12 months in theater.