For the first time in more than a decade, the US Army is forcing thousands of former soldiers back into uniform, a reflection of the strain on the service of long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army officials said on Tuesday that about 5,600 former soldiers -- mostly people who recently left the service and have up-to-date skills in military policing, engineering, logistics, medicine or transportation -- will be assigned to National Guard and Reserve units starting this month, and many will be sent to Iraq by the year's end.
These reservists, members of the Individual Ready Reserve, are distinct from members of the National Guard and Army Reserve because they do not perform regularly scheduled training and are not paid as reservists. They are eligible to be recalled in an "emergency" because their active duty hitches did not complete the service obligation in their enlistment contracts.
The Army was to announce details of the call-up yesterday. It is the first sizable activation of the Individual Ready Reserve since the 1991 Gulf War, though several hundred people have voluntarily returned to service.
The Army is targeting its recall on those who recently left the service and thus have fresher skills than retirees. Any time the military calls on its reservists for wartime duty, political implications arise because of the disruption to civilian lives and businesses. In this case it may reinforce the perception that Iraq is stretching the Army too far.
Lawmaker Rick Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Tuesday that dipping into the Individual Ready Reserve amounts to conscripting people to fight in Iraq.
"If there was any doubt that this administration was conducting a pseudo-draft, this call-up should dispel that doubt," Larsen said.
John Kerry, President George W. Bush's presumed opponent in the fall election, has made similar assessments about Bush's use of reserves and guardsmen. After the Pentagon declared a "stop-loss" this month to prevent the separation of troops, Kerry declared: "They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft."
The Army said the Individual Ready Reserve members who are recalled will be given at least 30 days' notice before they must report for training.
Vietnam veteran Chuck Luczynski said in an interview Tuesday that he fears his son, Matt, who is getting out of the Army after four years, will be called back as part of the individual reserves. The son returned home in March after a year's tour in Iraq, and he has plans to start a computer programming business.
"I think that's on everybody's mind right now, that they took their turn, and they would hope everybody took a turn so that a few don't carry the many," said the elder Luczynski.
The Army is so stretched for manpower that in April it broke a promise to some active-duty units that they would not have to serve more than 12 months in Iraq. It also extended the tours of other units, including some in Afghanistan.
Those recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve will be assigned to Army Reserve and National Guard units that have been or soon will be mobilized for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, unless they petition for exemption based on medical or other limitations.
In January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to activate as many as 6,500 people from the Individual Ready Reserve, drawing on presidential authority granted in 2001.
Not until May did the Army begin looking in detail at the available pool of people.
At that point some Army recruiters caused a controversy when they contacted members of the Individual Ready Reserve and suggested they would wind up in Iraq unless they joined a Reserve or Guard unit, a suggestion that some called coercion.
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