Attrition: Here Comes the Annual Muster


March 7, 2007: Three years ago, the U.S. Army began calling up members of the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve). This sort of worked, but a lot of the people selected could not be found. No one really kept track of where the IRR people were, aside from the home address they gave when they were discharged. So now the army is going to invoke another rarely used aspect of the IRR law, the mandatory muster.

Most people in the IRR are there for four years, to finish out the eight year obligation incurred when they enlisted (usually for four years of active duty.) The IRR has existed for nearly half a century, and had never really been used until now. But the current situation appears to be exactly what the IRR was designed for, and the army plans to use it heavily. In theory, the army could make everyone who enlisted, serve eight years (instead of the usual 3-6 years.) This is unlikely, as there are limits on how many reservists the president can call up without a formal declaration of war. Moreover, not all of the 50,000 or so troops discharged each year have skills that the army needs to fill emergency needs. One thing is for certain, troops, including those recently discharged, are now much more aware of what the IRR is. The annual muster will not apply to all IRR members, and those who are required to muster will be paid for their time, along with travel expenses. The musters will probably be held at military bases, including National Guard and reserve centers.

The annual muster will be for two hours, which will mainly be to check current address, employment and general availability for service. The army and marines have found that many of their IRR people were eager to serve. Even retired troops have been volunteering. But many veterans simply don't know what their options are.

While most of the people in the IRR are those who are just finishing their eight years of mandatory service, there are thousands of National Guard and army reserve personnel there, mainly because there's no where else to put them, or because no one can find these people in the first place. Reservists also incur the eight year obligation when they sign up. Most reservists sign on for six years of reserve service (attending monthly training sessions, and the two weeks of Summer exercises), followed by two years in the IRR. But here's the angle that commanders in reserve and National Guard units have learned to exploit. Since IRR members are not paid, and it's common for members of reserve units to, well, just disappear, it's a lot easier to simply transfer the missing trooper to the IRR, than to go through all the paperwork, hassle, and futility of going after them for abandoning their reserve obligation. At the same time, there are reservists who are legitimately transferred to the IRR. This commonly happens when a reserve unit is disbanded, and there are no nearby (within reasonable distance) reserve units to take the now orphaned reservists. Some of the more dedicated reservists will up and move to a new town that has a reserve unit they can join, but most often, the orphaned reservists will transfer to the IRR. Another (well known) problem with the IRR is that its members do not keep the army informed of their whereabouts. Legally, the IRR members are supposed to, but the army has rarely prosecuted anyone over this. So few IRR members bother to notify the army when there is an address change. As a result, a third, or more, of IRR members are not at the address the army has for them. Alas, the IRR members are not mobilized often enough to justify a reform of this system (and spending the time and money needed to keep track of everyone.) Thus the introduction of the annual muster.

The IRR callup spotlights the problem that wars have become less manpower intensive over the last sixty years. World War II saw 16.1 million Americans serving (11.6 percent of the population.) Six million of those troops were volunteers, the rest were drafted (and 6.4 million were drafted, but rejected for physical, mental or other reasons.) During the 1950-53 Korean war, 5.7 million served (27 percent were draftees), while during the Vietnam war (1965-73), 8.7 million served (20 percent were draftees.) You can see where this is going. With the relatively large number of Americans willing to volunteer for military service, and wars requiring fewer troops, there's no need for draftees. But when there's an emergency, and a call for reviving the draft, a look at the IRR shows that there are plenty of trained and experienced former military personnel already available, if you can only find them.




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