- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Army took initial steps yesterday to expel dozens of reservists who failed to report for active duty, in effect warning hundreds of others that they, too, could be penalized if they don’t heed orders to return to active service.

The proceedings mark a turning point in the Army’s struggle to deploy thousands of soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a rarely mobilized group of reservists, to war zones in which some have resisted serving.

These are soldiers who previously had served on active duty, but have not completed their eight-year service obligation. Unlike those in the National Guard or Army Reserve, they are not required to stay in training. Many have requested a delay in returning to service, have asked to be exempted or have ignored their orders.

The Army began mobilizing them in summer 2004, reflecting the strain it felt in providing enough soldiers for Iraq.

So far, mobilization orders have been issued for more than 5,700 IRR soldiers since mid-2004.

The Army announced that about 80 soldiers will face review panels, known as separation boards, although the number may grow. If the panels conclude they intentionally did not obey a mobilization order, they would face one of three levels of discharge from the service: honorable, general or other-than-honorable.

They do not face criminal charges.

As of Dec. 11, the latest date for which the Army had figures, 3,954 IRR soldiers had reported for duty. In addition, more than 1,600 had been excused from duty and 463 had been sent orders but had not yet reported. Of those 463, the Army has been unable to locate 383. The other 80 are the ones who now face discharge.

When the Army initially found that it was facing resistance from some IRR soldiers who did not want to get back in uniform, there was talk of declaring them absent without leave and pursuing criminal charges against them. But that was deemed too harsh, and the Army spent many months trying to contact those who were ignoring their orders.

In its announcement yesterday, the Army said that in addition to those who have openly refused to report for duty, those who do not respond to repeated communications from the Army may face discharge proceedings.

Of the three possible types of discharge that an IRR soldier may face in these proceedings, the most severe is “other than honorable.” While a soldier given an honorable or general discharge would continue to be eligible for payment for accrued leave, and for health benefits and burial in an Army national cemetery, those given an “other than honorable” discharge would not be.

Two even more severe types of discharge — bad conduct and dishonorable — will not be considered in the IRR cases, the Army said.

The last time members of the IRR were called to active duty was 1990, when nearly 20,000 were mobilized for the Gulf War against Iraq.

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