Attrition: Once A Marine, Again and Again


May 17,2008: The U.S. Marine Corps has 60,000 IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) troops that are being used to deal with shortages in some key skill areas. The marines have been calling up about a thousand IRR troops a year, about half every six months.

The IRR activations are to deal with a growing problem, as too many people the marines need most, do not re-enlist. So the U.S. Marines are using the IRRto obtain key support positions for units headed to a combat zone. Themarines typically seek to fill support jobs in intelligence, maintenance, communications and various other skills. These marines are activated for twelve months (seven months overseas, with the rest of the time for training).

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 this century. The current situation appears to be exactly what the IRR was designed for, and the army and marines are using it a lot. In theory, the army and marines 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 15-20 thousand marines discharged each year (about two-thirds have been in combat) have skills that are needed to fill emergency needs. One thing is for certain, troops, including those recently discharged, are now much more aware of what the IRR is.

Many of those who get an IRR call-up notice are not able to go. They have health or other personal situations that make them unable to deploy. Last year, 1,800 recently discharged marines received IRR call up notices. But only about 47 percent actually went. That's the way it is with the IRR.


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