View Full Version : Reserves' Weekends Now Last Months

October 28th, 2003, 08:27 AM
St Petersburg Times (http://www.sptimes.com/2003/10/27/Worldandnation/Reserves__weekends_no.shtml)


Reserves' weekends now last months

As the Iraq war makes clear, changes in strategy and politics intentionally put reservists on long-term duty during wartime.

By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 27, 2003

The United States fought in Vietnam for roughly a decade with as many as 540,000 troops at a time, but even in that long and bloody conflict, the Army relied almost completely on full-time soldiers.

Fewer than 15,000 Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops were called to active duty during the war.

Compare that to Iraq. Seven months into a war in which major combat is over, roughly 20,000 Army reservists are serving in Iraq or nearby. An additional 100,000 are on active duty around the globe or on the homefront.

Why? The U.S. military can no longer fight a war any other way.

Dramatic transformations in the shape of the U.S. fighting force in the past three decades mean many key wartime jobs have been handed over almost entirely to the Reserves.

Reserves are responsible for 75 percent of the Army's medical, transportation and engineering and supply capabilities, and more than half of such basic Army functions as infantry, armor and field artillery.

"The active-duty Army set up a system where we would not be able to go to war without support from the reserve forces," said Richard Kohn, a history professor at the University of North Carolina and former chief historian of the Air Force.

Reservists outnumber regular soldiers in the all-volunteer Army, where the changes are most pronounced. But other branches, such as the Air Force, have increased their reliance on reservists.

Part-time soldiers handle even very specialized jobs that once were the domain of full-time soldiers, such as the Starke-based 3rd Battalion of the 20th Special Forces Group, part of the Florida National Guard.

Soldiers from that battalion were called to active duty for eight months last year and sent to Afghanistan on missions that included "unconventional warfare and reconnaissance."

The changes were born of political and budgetary decisions made against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the fall of the Soviet Union. But their effect has never been as clear as in recent months, as reservists and their families grapple with the reality of extended tours of duty in the Middle East.

"What worries me," Kohn said, "is that in the National Guard and Reserves we will poison the recruiting well and that good people will not choose to do this because it's too destructive of their civil and family life. They might as well be in the regular Army."

"When your country needs you, they're going to call'
When the United States attacked Iraq this year, a 43-year-old supervisor for the state Department of Children and Families was flying overhead, helping maintain communications that allowed the battle to unfold.

Bob Doskoez normally works in the New Port Richey office of DCF, in the section that decides whether people qualify for food stamps. But he also is a senior master sergeant in the Air National Guard, assigned to the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.

In his military role, Doskoez and colleagues set up communications for airborne command and control centers, essentially flying command posts.

It's a classic example of a key military function handled by people who are not full-time airmen. The command and control centers, aboard HC-130 Hercules aircraft, allow commanders to communicate via secure radio to air, ground and land forces during battle.

"What we do is, we provide what we call "the pipe,' or the link of all communications," said Doskoez, who spent two months in Iraq. "We set up all the equipment and we fly with the aircraft."

Doskoez, who is married with three children, has been on active duty for the past two years, something he never could have imagined when he signed up with the Air National Guard in 1979.

"If people join the Guard or Reserve, they need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You may think you're signing up for one weekend a month, but when your country needs you, they're going to call on you."

Diane Plomatos of Pinellas Park found that out.

She signed papers last year so her then-17-year-old son, Jason, could join the Florida National Guard. That's a step that would have made overseas deployment extremely unlikely during the Vietnam era. But Plomatos' son is in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion of the 124th Infantry Division.

Plomatos says she never realized today's military "force structure" calls for sending reserves to wars overseas.

"I absolutely did not realize that this change was occurring," said Plomatos, 45. She is among those who recently complained to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., that National Guard soldiers are shouldering too much of the war's burden.

She says it hurts to know her son and other National Guard troops are still serving overseas, even though some regular Army troops have returned home.

"I feel angry that he's still over there and in Iraq . . . ," Plomatos said. She expected he could be called up to help after hurricanes or other disasters in the United States. But she thought he would be focused on homeland security, not foreign wars.

"It's very difficult because when you ... watch the homecomings and you see all the other soldiers coming home and you say, "Why isn't Jason coming home?' "

The views of parents like Plomatos were part of what the American military considered in the 1970s when it began implementing the "total force" policy after getting rid of the draft. The policy calls for viewing the entire military, active and reserve, as one coordinated force.

Having just weathered huge protests over the unpopular Vietnam War, the military wanted to ensure the American public was more directly involved in future wars. Involving the National Guard, which has ties to governors in every state and wields its own political influence, became part of the strategy.

As the Army National Guard's Web site puts it: "A related benefit of this approach is to permit elected officials to have a better sense of public support or opposition to any major military operation."

"A political decision in Washington was made in the White House," said Col. Jeffrey Reynolds, an operations and gaming analyst at the Center for Strategic Leadership, part of the Army War College in Pennsylvania. "We would not go to war in the future without taking the Army Reserve and the National Guard with us."

Asked if the United States could fight a sustained war without using reserve soldiers, Reynolds said, "Today the answer is no, we cannot, and that's by design."

More mobilizations, more troops, more purposes
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the government downsized the military, cutting more from active duty personnel than from reserve forces.

But paradoxically, U.S. military commitments grew more varied even as the force grew smaller. With U.S. soldiers in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, and at U.S. bases in Western Europe and South Korea, it's increasingly clear that full-time soldiers can't do it all.

"Think of it this way: In the 75 years or so from 1908 through about 1990, the Army Reserve was mobilized in significant numbers only about nine times," with the biggest examples being World War II and the Korean War, said Jim Coles, a spokesman at the Army Reserve Command in Atlanta. "Since 1990, the Army Reserve has been mobilized 10 times and we've had an average of almost 10,000 people mobilized per year."

Reservists with more specialized missions might require more training than the typical "one weekend a month, two weeks a year" commitment that many think of for Reserve duty.

Coles said the Army Reserve, which focuses largely on combat support duties, is ready to step in for many wartime scenarios. For example, he said the Reserve maintains an underground hospital in South Korea, in case war breaks out on the border. "It's shrink-wrapped, vacuum-wrapped so it's dust-free. . . . All they have to do is fly the medical staff there, turn on the power."

Some get even closer to the action.

Capt. William Markham is battalion support company commander of the Florida-based 3rd Battalion of the 20th Special Forces Group, and was sent to Afghanistan last year. He and soldiers in his company worked to assemble the "beans, bullets and Band-Aids" for active duty Special Forces teams, highly trained soldiers who specialize in behind-the-lines military attacks, "unconventional warfare" and surveillance.

"If we weren't there, they probably would have completed their mission, but they probably would have struggled and had a hard time and might have even lost more soldiers," Markham said. "If you don't have a bullet to send down range, can you be effective?"

Markham returned from his eight months in Afghanistan last year, but two other companies in the 3rd Battalion, including one based in Brooksville, are now in the region. And those companies are composed of fighting soldiers, not support companies supplying others.

Markham has a wife and two sons, and also works a full-time civilian job for the Florida National Guard. But he said he loves the part-time duty with the Special Forces battalion.

"They pay me to jump out of planes and to drive tanks ... and yes, that's in the Guard," Markham said.

Mark Ballou of Valrico joined the Florida Army National Guard in 1998, and was sent this year with the 3rd Battalion of the 124th Infantry Regiment to Iraq.

On June 5 he was standing guard outside a bank in Baghdad, a job he knew to be dangerous, because the area had previously come under attack.

An Iraqi civilian began firing and a bullet pierced the left side of his neck and came out his right side, damaging his esophagus, vocal cords and right lung. A fellow soldier, also hit, shot back and killed the attacker.

"I don't recall much of what happened," he said during a brief interview at a military ceremony last month. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Medic Badge and the Purple Heart, and is recuperating.

- This report includes information from the Washington Post, the New York Times and St. Petersburg Times files. Curtis Krueger can be reached at krueger@sptimes.com or 727 893-8232.

Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

November 7th, 2003, 08:18 AM
Army Undertaking Large Troop Rotation

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - The Army next year will undertake its largest series of troop rotations since World War II when it sends 85,000 new Army and Marine combat forces to Iraq to replace soldiers ending one-year tours.

The Pentagon plans, announced Thursday, also include alerting an additional 43,000 National Guard and Reserve support troops that they may be sent to Iraq as well.

Under the rotation plan, the overall number of American troops in Iraq will actually fall to 105,000 by May from the current 131,600, senior officials said.

That net reduction in U.S. forces contrasts sharply with calls from some in Congress for increased troop strength. The Bush administration says it can fight the ongoing anti-occupation violence in Iraq with fewer U.S. forces because it is rapidly increasing the number of Iraqis trained for security missions.

In an added twist, the Army announced that soldiers in every unit designated for deployment to Iraq next year whether active duty or reserve will be prohibited from leaving the service during a period beginning 90 days before their departure to 90 days after they return.

That measure, known in the military as "stop-loss," does not apply to the Marine Corps, which said it will dispatch about 20,000 Marines to replace the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in western Iraq, including the Fallujah area where attacks have been most numerous.

Lt. Gen. Jan C. Huly, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for plans and operations, told a news conference that the Marines would spend seven months in Iraq, then be replaced by another 20,000-Marine contingent for seven months. They will come from the 1st Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., which helped spearhead the invasion of Iraq last spring.

The Army will send the equivalent of three combat divisions to replace the four now in Iraq.

The rotation, combined with a switchout of troops in Afghanistan the 25th Infantry Division replacing the 10th Mountain Division in April is the largest sequence of troop movements for the Army since World War II, Lt. Gen. Richard Cody said in an interview. He is the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations.

The 1st Infantry Division will go from Germany, the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, a brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., and a brigade from the 25th Infantry Division. National Guard infantry brigades will be attached to both the 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry.

Those units will replace the 82nd Airborne, the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division. First to depart Iraq will be the 101st Airborne, which is the only one of the four divisions there now that participated in the drive to Baghdad last spring.

The net result: 20 percent fewer U.S. troops will be in Iraq by May. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the news conference he is assuming the two multinational divisions now in Iraq led by Britain and Poland and totaling about 24,000 troops will remain through next year.

The Pentagon had been counting on a third multinational division, possibly led by Turkey, but that has not materialized.

The Bush administration has set no timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq. President Bush delivered a message to the troops on Thursday via the American Forces Radio and Television Service.

"Our mission in Iraq goes on and the war on terror is far from finished," he said, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. "The road ahead is difficult and dangerous, but I have complete confidence in you."

Some of the troops rotating into Iraq will be returning for their second tour of duty there and some only a short time after they were sent home, Rumsfeld said.

Reservists will be called up for a maximum of 18 months, with a year in Iraq, Rumsfeld said.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.