For the second year in a row, the U.S. Army is holding an annual "muster"
of the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve). Four years ago, the army began calling
up members of the IRR, but encountered unexpected problems. The big one was
that a lot of the people being mobilized
could not be found. No one ever really kept track of where the IRR
people were, aside from the home address they gave when they were discharged. So
last year, the army invoked another
rarely used aspect of the IRR law, the mandatory muster. Selected IRR members are notified to show up
for the muster, and discuss their suitability for activation.
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 the
last four years. 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.
muster will not apply to all IRR members, and those who are required to muster
will be paid $190 for their time, along with travel expenses. The musters are
held at military bases, including National Guard and reserve centers. The
annual muster process lasts about two hours, and all it really does is check
current address, employment and general availability for service. Currently,
1,900 IRR members are on active duty, and another 1,800 will be activated in
the next seven months. Those activated usually serve for a year.
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, and the army only needs a small number off IRR troops. This year's muster is calling 10,000 of the 90,000
IRR members. In theory, there should be 117,400 IRR members. But checking with
these people has found many that are not really able to return to active duty.
Some are pregnant or have young children. Others have health or employment
situations that make active service impractical. Some are wayward reservists.
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 nowhere 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
(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.
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 another 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. The annual muster is
headed for becoming another aspect of American military life.