Army: Soldiers to be involuntarily recalled to duty

WASHINGTON – It could be a long weekend for thousands of former soldiers.

The Army says it will begin notifying more than 5,600 of those soldiers next week that they are being involuntarily recalled to active duty and could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan as early as this fall.

There will be 40 former soldiers from New Hampshire being mobilized, according to the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Fort McPherson, Ga.

Of those, 33 will come from the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve and seven will come from the inactive National Guard.

“There’s going to be soldiers who, yes, will be shocked,” said Col. Debra A. Cook, commander of the Army’s Human Resources Command and the final arbiter of petitions for exemption.

Most of the former soldiers recently left the Army as truck drivers, mechanics, supply clerks, administrative clerks or combat engineers. All will be kept on active duty for at least 18 months but not longer than two years. The first formal notifications are due to arrive in mailboxes on Tuesday.

The call-up will be done in three increments from July to December.

It is the first large-scale use of former soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve since 1991. But it is not the first time the Army has dipped into this category of reserves for Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld authorized the Army to do so in January. As a result, small numbers of former soldiers have been called up, with little or no publicity.

Members of Congress were informed Tuesday of what the Army called a “potentially emotional and historic” decision to reach deeper into the Individual Ready Reserve.

Some leading Democrats cited it as evidence that the Bush administration had underestimated the length of time and number of American troops it would take to stabilize and rebuild postwar Iraq.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the mobilization was “a clear signal that we need to provide more troops to the overburdened U.S. Army.” Skelton has led a push to increase the size of the active-duty Army, which Congress has mandated at 482,400.

Once notified of their call-up, reservists will have 30 days to report to a mobilization station for administrative and medical checkups, then be sent for refresher training in their specialty before heading to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The call-up is the first sizable use of the Individual Ready Reserve since 20,277 were mobilized during the 1991 Gulf War. Before that, the only other such call-up was in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

Army officials said Wednesday another call-up for Iraq and Afghanistan is likely next year.

“We expect to call some more,” possibly thousands more, for Iraq and Afghanistan, said Robert Smiley, the Army secretary’s principal assistant for troop training, readiness and mobilization.