The Army has suspended plans to expand an unwieldy, 16-month-old program to call up inactive soldiers for military duty, after thousands have requested delays or exemptions or failed to show up.
Despite intense pressure to fill manpower gaps, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey said the Army has no plans for any further call-up of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) beyond the current level of about 6,500 soldiers. The IRR is a pool of about 115,000 trained soldiers who have left active-duty or reserve units for civilian life, but remain subject to call-up for a set period.
The Army also announced, in a memo released this week, that it will no longer involuntarily mobilize from the IRR an estimated 15,000 Army officers who have already completed their eight years of required military duty, stating that under a new policy it will offer them a chance to resign instead.
Poor records management has hampered the Army's efforts to draw on the pool, intended to fill holes in existing Army units, Harvey told defense reporters last week.
Since June 2004, the Army has begun mobilizing 6,535 people from the IRR. Of those, about 3,300 have reported for duty, and 1,450 have been granted exemptions on medical and other grounds, according to Army figures from October. The Army is trying to locate more than 400 who were supposed to report by October but have not.
Stretched thin by the war in Iraq, the Army began calling up IRR soldiers last year for the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War to meet its growing manpower needs. The Army taps the IRR for replacement troops and to bring undermanned units to full strength.
Officials said a year ago that they anticipated a similar dip into the IRR in 2005, but the Army is struggling to complete the first group.
"It's profoundly irritating to me. It's not good management," Harvey said. The Army said it has lacked resources to modernize its IRR record-keeping. Harvey said an initiative is underway to allow the Army to better track IRR members and how much time they have left to serve.
IRR call-ups -- in the form of Western Union Mailgrams -- have arrived as a welcome call to duty for some former soldiers and as a shock to others, many of whom have been out of uniform for years.
More than 3,000 of all those facing mobilization have asked for delays or exemptions, which have been granted so far primarily on the grounds of illness or the need to care for family members, but also because of financial hardship. Others have contested the call-ups on legal grounds.
One of the most contentious issues involves thousands of Army officers who have completed their eight years of military duty but have been kept in the reserve pool indefinitely because they have not formally resigned their commissions -- a requirement some officers say they knew nothing of.
Paul Davison, a 1995 West Point graduate, served six years as an infantry officer and two more in the IRR, ending in 2003. Now a freelance television producer, he thought there was some mistake three weeks ago when he opened the mailbox at his apartment on New York's Upper East Side and pulled out orders summoning him to report for training and deployment to Iraq.
The next day, Davison, 32, dialed a phone number printed on the Mailgram to correct the error, giving a clerk his Social Security number.
"You're still in," he recalled the clerk telling him.
"No, I'm out," Davison replied.
"It was the most shocking, stressful, horrible thing," Davison said.
Davison and several of his West Point classmates were among about 800 people issued mobilization orders in the Army's latest batch of IRR call-ups between August and November, said Sgt. 1st Class Keith O'Donnell, spokesman for the Army's Human Resources Command in St. Louis.
Together with his classmates, Davison badgered mobilization officials and scoured the Internet looking for a way out of the predicament. One officer discovered a new clause in a July 16, 2005, Pentagon directive that in effect forbids the Army from keeping officers in the IRR against their will once their time is up.
"Dude! I think we've got the smoking gun!" the classmate said excitedly in a phone call to Davison earlier this month.
Initially, Army officials argued that the new policy did not apply to their cases. So Davison and his classmates hired a lawyer, who last week advised the Army of his intent to seek a restraining order. Meanwhile, the Army issued an interim memo to implement the new policy.
"Effective immediately the Army will cease mobilization of officers beyond their MSO [military service obligation] unless they positively elect to remain in the IRR," states the memo, which the Army provided to The Washington Post.
On Nov. 10, Davison got a call from an official at the Army's Human Resources Command offering him a chance to resign. "My ordeal is over," said Davison, who was scheduled to report for duty at Fort Jackson, S.C., on Nov. 13.
But for others, the shift came too late. The Army will allow officers who fall under the policy to resign if they are still in the United States. But if they have already left for Iraq or other assignments, they will have to stay for the entire deployment. "If they have already been deployed, they'll be required to fulfill the terms of their mobilization orders," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army personnel spokesman.