- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

Suppose you work for a company for a few years, then move on. After several years the old company “recalls” you. But they’re telling you, not asking. Your termination agreement says you must return if they decide they need you.

Impossible? No, it’s true. That “company” is the “all-volunteer” U.S. Army. The volunteer part is joining. If an officer, you might find yourself back in uniform years after leaving.

I refer not to the active reserves or National Guard troops, who can be activated when the Army needs them, but to the Individual Ready Reserve. The IRR is for officers who have left active service but still have time left on their Military Service Obligation. Officers on the IRR know they can be called up. It’s spelled out in the regulations, including when you’re off the IRR.

Paragraph 4.5 of DoD directive 1235.13 (July 16, 2005) says officers will be dropped from the IRR within two years after MSO fulfillment, “unless they positively elect to remain in the IRR past their MSO.” [emphasis added] Officials admit the Army disregards this regulation and is extending officers’ time on the IRR. At this writing, the legal authorization has not been shown.

I know this because of an Army ex-officer — age 36 and separated from service for six years — who learned he was still IRR when he received notice to report for active duty in 30 days. That ex-officer is my son, Bill. He has four young children. Bill is not in the Guard and didn’t “elect” to extend; his MSO ended February 2002. An 18-month tour in Iraq is likely.

Bill joined the Army in 1994, at age 25. Although a college grad, he ran, marched and slogged his way through infantry basic training before qualifying for Officer Candidate School. After being commissioned he served until 1999, reaching the rank of captain.

Why did a guy with an accounting degree join the Army? “I wanted to serve the country,” Bill said. He considered an Army career. His commanding general called him “one of the Army’s finest young officers” and offered him the chance to write his own ticket. But Bill declined. “I’m a family man. You can’t do a good job raising kids when you’re absent for large stretches of time. I saw that the Army wasn’t for me for the long haul.”

Bill resigned in late 1999 and began building houses. His family grew to a daughter and three sons. He avoided National Guard or Reserve service. The Army was the distant past. Bill should have been off the IRR by 2004. The new orders struck his family like a bomb. We visited after the initial shock passed.

“I was proud of having served,” said Bill. “Am I being punished for it? I’ve been out for six years. I’m not a young man any more. War makes no allowances for age or rustiness.”

Bill worries his absence will hurt his family. They live far from the support network of other military families. When he returns — may it please God — his littlest guy won’t know him. Absent a miracle, Bill will report for duty Nov. 13.

We know the Army has manpower problems. Many soldiers have served two (even three) combat tours. The volunteer force is tapped out. An increased combat-demand would be big trouble.

“It’s an emergency,” said one officer. “We need every man we can get.” He has a point, but it’s not the only point to be made. I recalled a sign I once saw posted at a small business: “Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

The Army planned a quick war. It didn’t work out. The backup personnel plan was evidently to recall officers in their late 30s. Maybe no one thought it would come to that, but here we are.

Using officers inactive for six-plus years means we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Beyond the disruption to these men’s lives, activating them cannot be militarily sound. The Army undergoes many changes in a few years. Bill’s military knowledge is outdated.

The all-volunteer army works fine in peacetime, when it’s all career opportunities and benefits. But war changes attitudes. Britain’s army was all-volunteer in 1914, but the Great War’s manpower needs could be met only by conscription.

In World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean War, the draft filled our manpower needs. Even in the “peacetime” era of 1954-1964 a young man expected induction unless he had an educational deferment. But the Vietnam War brought significant draft-resistance. Late in the war, the draft was localized to 19-year-olds chosen by lottery. In the mid-1970s, it was abolished altogether.

Truth be told, we probably need a draft now to meet our force-requirements. But the draft is the elephant in the parlor politicians want to ignore.

One big reason is the ladies. Over the last 30 years feminists pushed hard to open female career opportunities in the military. The military acquiesced. Today, women constitute an essential part of our forces. This means women can hardly be exempted from a new draft. Many young women — including some now in uniform — might gladly avoid war, but would this be fair after insisting women benefit from military service? Women can staff many support functions even if men still fill combat roles.

A draft is disruptive, but it does identify the people best able to serve — typically, fit young people with few family obligations. Reinstating it for a major war will require political courage and national will. If we can’t do this, the Army will keep pulling middle-aged men away from families and careers — a political minefield even more explosive than the draft.

The protests of Cindy Sheehan, who regrettably lost a son in the war, will seem trivial next to the rage of widows whose middle-aged husbands were “drafted” back into service because the Army ran out of volunteers and stopped following its own regulations. We shouldn’t be doing this.


His column “At Large” appears weekly in The Atlantic Highlands Herald.


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