The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
The 2002 Mobilization Madness
by James Dunnigan
September 19, 2003
Over a quarter of a million reservists were mobilized for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about the same number that were called up in 1990 to support the liberation of Kuwait. There were a lot of problems during the 1990 mobilization, with units called up on very short notice, and then left to sit around for weeks because no one up the line was quite sure what to do with them. Equipment was sent to the wrong place, refresher training was often a confused affair. The only saving grace was that everyone was home, or headed home, by March, 1991.
The Department of Defense reacted to the problems and made a lot of changes in the mobilization process, believing that most of the problems would be eliminated. Now fast forward eleven years to late 2002. Mobilization is under way to put over a hundred thousands troops into Kuwait for an invasion of Iraq. The 1991 fixes didn't work.
Over a hundreds thousand reservists and National Guard troops were activated in late 2002. There were two problems with this process that had not been anticipated. First, the September 11, 2001 attacks had already caused over a hundred thousand reservists to be called up to provide extra security against terrorist attacks. Some had also been used to support operations in Afghanistan. But this call up had disrupted the carefully prepared plans for activating reservists. These were the "war plans," and there were basically two of them. One for a war in Korea, the other for a war in the Middle East. You'd have thought that the Middle East war plans would have filled the bill for an invasion of Iraq. This was not the case, as these plans for were for a largely defensive operation. The actual details of these war plans are secret, but enough has been muttered out loud to indicate that the 2002 mobilization was improvised, and that created a blizzard of problems for those getting activated.
First, there was the short notice many reservists received. Possibly the worst example were those notified on the day after Christmas, 2002, that they were to report for duty a week later, on January 2nd, 2003. This gave troops only three business days to get things squared away at work and at home. Not enough time for most (including those who had to break apartment leases and get their possessions into storage), and a lot of problems were left behind to fester.
But then it got worse. Troops showed up at mobilization points to discover no one knew what to do next. Because the mobilization was largely improvised, lots of important little details were in disarray. Some troops were there for a few days and were then told that they were not really needed. Units that depended on email to get out the word found out that not everyone checked their email daily, and that, plus the short notice, meant that more than a few soldiers found themselves with only a few days to report. A lot of reservists never showed up at all, not because they decided not to, but because they were no longer in the reserves, or they no longer belonged to the unit that was calling them up. Many units had not tested their activation process lately, and discovered, too late, that many of the people on their rosters were no longer available.
Troops that had their service confirmed often found themselves quartered in condemned buildings, sometimes in isolated areas of an army base, and not getting much feedback about what came next. What often happened next was that they were merged with another unit because so many units showed up understrength. But for many called up, they were just sent in ones and twos to reserve or active duty units. This led many troops to bitterly call themselves "temps."
What was supposed to come next was the reservists getting any weapons or equipment they were missing (for active duty) and do some training to make sure everyone really knew what to do once the unit reached the combat zone. At this point, things started to get scary. First, some National Guard units, who thought they were going to get some key items of equipment (like computers and communications gear) were told by the active army that it was their state's responsibility (the National Guard is controlled by state government when not activated for federal service.) When the units called back to state Guard headquarters, they were told it was the active army's responsibility. So some units went to war missing essential equipment. And some of that essential equipment was weapons and ammunition. Many National Guard support units only had M-16 rifles and 9mm pistols. They had no machine-guns or 40mm rocket launchers. Worse, they were not issued a full load of rifle ammo (210 rounds per soldier), but just one magazine of 30 rounds. With this, some units were sent into Iraq when the shooting was still pretty common along the roads, and villages units passed through.
Not only was there not enough ammo to go to war with, but things were so confused and disorganized that the reserve troops did not get much, if any, time on the rifle range to sharpen their shooting skills.
The final insult occurred after the equipment was put on the ships and the troops flown to Kuwait. Actually, there was one more embarrassment before that; the need to hire rental trailers to carry the gear to the port because the army didn't have enough vehicles. On arrival in Kuwait, many units found much equipment had been stolen. Locks on tool boxes or cargo containers were broken, and contents gone. In one case, some troops from the 101st Airborne division were found to be the culprits and criminal charges were filed. But in most cases it was locals who had access to the docks and larceny in their hearts.