U.S. reserves nearly 'broken,' says chief
Iraq, Afghan conflicts sap military resources
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army Reserve, tapped heavily to provide soldiers for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is “degenerating into a ‘broken’ force” due to dysfunctional military policies, the Army Reserve’s chief said in a memo made public Wednesday.
“I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern,” Lt. Gen. James Helmly said in a Dec. 20 memo to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker.
The Army Reserve is a force of 200,000 part-time soldiers who opted not to sign up for the active-duty Army but can be mobilized from their civilian lives in times of national need. About 52,000 Army Reserve soldiers are on active duty, with 17,000 in Iraq and 2,000 in Afghanistan, the Army said.
The Army Reserve has provided many military police, civil affairs soldiers, medics and truck drivers for the wars.
“While ability to meet the current demands associated with OIF (Operational Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan) is of great importance, the Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements including those in named OPLANS (operational plans) and CONUS (continental United States) emergencies, and is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken’ force,” Helmly wrote.
Helmly said military leaders had rebuffed his proposals for change. The memo’s purpose was to inform Schoomaker of the Army Reserve’s “inability — under current policies, procedures and practices governing mobilization, training and reserve component manpower management — to meet mission requirements” for the two wars, Helmly wrote.
In his eight-page memo, first disclosed by the Baltimore Sun, Helmly titled one section “US Army Reserve Readiness Discussion, Past Dysfunctional Practices/Policies.”
The Pentagon, maintaining higher-than-expected troop levels after failing to anticipate that a bloody guerrilla war would follow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003, has relied heavily on Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers. These part-time troops comprise about 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq.
Some reservists and families have complained about frequent and lengthy tours in war zones, inferior equipment and scant notice before being pressed into service.
Helmly’s remarks gave fuel to critics of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who argue that his policies and his resistance to a large increase in the active-duty Army are harming the all-volunteer military.
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island called the memo ”deeply disturbing,” adding: “By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden on the Army Reserve and created this crisis.”
Volunteer versus mercenary
Helmly referred to “potential ‘sociological’ damage” to the all-volunteer military by paying inducements of $1,000 extra per month to reservists who volunteer to remobilize.
“We must consider the point at which we confuse ’volunteer to become an American Soldier’ with 'mercenary,”’ Helmly said.
Helmly said Pentagon reluctance to issue orders calling reservists to active duty “in a timely manner” resulted in more than 10,000 reserve soldiers getting as little as three to five days notice before being compelled back into uniform.
A senior Army official said Schoomaker and Army Secretary Francis Harvey were reviewing the memo. “Changes are expected over time, and the Army is already working these issues. The memo just brings it to the forefront,” the official said.