Reserve call-up change at issue
Troop morale slips as U.S. considers duty extensions
Lawrence members of the Army Reserve are nervously waiting to see whether the Pentagon implements a new policy that would require they serve longer, more frequent tours of active duty.
Staff Sgt. Michael Argumedo is home for two weeks from Kuwait, where he is serving in the Lawrence-based 317th Quartermaster Battalion. He said he would probably “opt out” of the Reserve if the policy were approved.
“Personally, it’s distressing to see so much of the burden of this shifted to the Guard and Reserve,” Argumedo said. “For as many years as this (deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq) has been going on and in the planning stages — if there’s political will to engage in this war, there should be political will to expand the active-duty force.”
Second Lt. Richard Sullivan, a member of the same battalion, was careful to stress that no formal announcement has been made.
“My personal belief is that there’s far too much speculation in the media right now,” Sullivan said. “That adds to the confusion.”
‘Not real hot’
The Associated Press and other news organizations reported last week that the Army is considering a National Guard and Reserve policy shift that could result in part-timers being called to active duty multiple times for up to two years each time.
Under current Army policy, a Guard or Reserve member is not to serve on active duty for more than 24 total months. For example, if a Guard or Reserve member were mobilized for six months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and later for nine months in Afghanistan, then that person would be off-limits for duty in Iraq because a yearlong tour there would exceed the 24-month limit. A standard tour in Iraq, for both active-duty and reserve troops, is 12 months.
If the limit were set at 24 consecutive months, with some break between tours, then in theory a Guard or Reserve member could be mobilized for multiple 12- or 24-month tours in Iraq or elsewhere.
That’s not likely to go over well with reservists.
“I don’t think anyone’s real hot on a two-year call-up,” said Sullivan, the Lawrence lieutenant.
Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly — commander of the Army Reserve — last week said morale was slipping and that the reserve might become a “broken” force because of the burdens it has taken on since the 9-11 attacks.
“I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern,” Helmly wrote in a memo to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.
The Army now has about 660,000 troops on active duty, including about 160,000 members of the Guard and Reserve. The National Guard, with about 350,000 members, and the 200,000-strong Reserve already are seeing signs of a slide in recruiting and retaining soldiers.
The Guard in particular has been used so much in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Army now has deployed — or put on notice of plans to mobilize in 2005 — all 15 of its main combat brigades.
Army officials also may ask Congress to increase permanently the size of the Army by 30,000 soldiers, to 512,000.
Joy Moser, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, said state officials had not been told of impending policy changes.
Lawrence reservists said the changes were needed.
“There’s been a general sense around here that some sort of change is necessary, that’s true,” Sullivan said.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Argumedo said of all the proposed changes. “To me, it was predictable, because the Guard and Reserve are stretched way too thin. We need to, as a country, acknowledge we got into a war. That requires a much larger active-duty force.”
— Journal-World wire services contributed to this report.