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 The Oregonian

Army does about-face on call-up readiness

An erroneous order for veterans to pick a Reserve or National Guard unit by Monday produces a flurry of enlistments

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

SALEM -- Thousands of recent U.S. Army veterans nationwide were told to choose by Monday a new assignment in the Army Reserve or National Guard -- meaning a potential return to active duty -- or the military would decide for them. The Army now says the order was a mistake.

The consequence of the error appears to be a sharp increase in enlistments in Oregon and elsewhere by reservists who feared being assigned a unit without their consent. They face possible deployment to the Middle East.

Army Reserve officials said the order issued in early May prompted a flood of calls from confused veterans, who are among the estimated 118,000 reservists on inactive status. The Pentagon is not yet forcing re-enlistments but is "screening" inactive reservists for possible call-up, a spokeswoman said.

Nonetheless, e-mails and phone calls from military recruiters went out this month warning veterans that they could be involuntarily placed in active Army Reserve units. That shocked some Oregon reservists.

"I started crying and said, 'I'm not doing this,' " said Carissa Jenkins, 22, of Keizer, who was discharged from active Army duty in January 2003. "I have a baby, a husband. All my values have changed."

Jenkins said she joined the Oregon National Guard last week to keep from going back to the regular Army. Between 3,500 and 5,000 inactive reservists are in Oregon and Washington.

"It was something I did not want to do," Jenkins said.

Whether soldiers who had signed up under the mistaken deadline would be released from their commitment was unclear Tuesday.

The military is reaching into the ranks of the Individual Ready Reserve because of the approximately 135,000 soldiers in Iraq, as well as other assignments around the globe. Soldiers in the ready reserve are subject to involuntary recall for a period of as long as four years after leaving active duty.

In Oregon, National Guard recruiters contacted soldiers on ready reserve after hearing of the Army orders to choose a unit by May 17 or face mandatory assignment.

It proved a recruiting boon.

Capt. Mike Braibish of the Oregon National Guard said that since Thursday, 107 ready reserve soldiers joined active National Guard units in Oregon. Normally, no more than a dozen such individuals would have signed up with Guard units in that time frame, he said.

"People are making a choice where they want to be assigned," he said.

In the past week, 1,063 inactive Army reservists across the country have joined active reserve units, an Army spokeswoman said. Although comparative figures for the prior week were not available late Tuesday, "That's a larger number than we usually have," said Julia Collins, a civilian public affairs official for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis.

News of the Army's move on ready reserves blindsided senior members of Congress, including John Warner, R-Va., chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators unaware of plan

Several members of the committee said they were not told of the order, despite being briefed on the Iraq war separately on Tuesday by Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

"Not aware of it," Warner told The Oregonian after Cheney met Tuesday with Senate Republicans over lunch. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he also was unaware of the order.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., also on the armed services panel, said the Army erred by not telling Congress about plans that affected so many reservists. By disrupting soldiers' personal lives, the order ultimately could harm efforts to recruit and retain soldiers, he said.

"To just have multiple deployments is not what people expect when they get into the reserve or the Guard units," Nelson said. "What we've got to do is rebalance the system so that this doesn't happen this way in the future."

Mistake unexplained

Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, commander of the Army Reserve, declined comment on how the mistake was made, a spokesman said. How the mistaken order was issued is a mystery, said Steve Stromvall, the civilian public affairs director for the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Atlanta.

"God only knows at this point where the miscommunication started," he said.

What is happening, said Collins, is that the Army Reserve has been screening soldiers to determine how many can be assigned to active units.

The screening's emphasis is on individuals with specialties such as medics, truck drivers and heavy-equipment operators. The project is almost complete, she said, and approximately 22,000 individuals have been identified.

The move illustrates the stress that the war on terrorism is placing on the U.S. military, particularly on the Army, which has forces concentrated in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with other deployments in Europe and Korea.

The Pentagon has come under repeated criticism for having too few troops on the ground in the Middle East. As a result, reliance on National Guard and Reserve forces is growing.

Call to soldier's mother

Recruiters with the Oregon National Guard on Thursday called Joseph Talik's mother, Lorisa Gardiner of Salem.

Talik, 26, of Portland said the recruiter urged that his mother contact her son. Talik served in the Army until his discharge last year. When Talik returned the recruiter's call, he was told to join the Guard rather than risk being sent overseas.

"I was blown away," said Talik, who is in college and working at a Portland restaurant. "The thought of having to go back on active duty was discouraging."

Last Sunday Talik joined a Guard unit in Portland.

"The recruiter said I would have less chance for deployment," he said. "It was my impression that very bad things would happen if I didn't join."

Jim Barnett and Jeff Kosseff of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Ron Soble: 503-302-8118; ronsoble@msn.com. communication and any attachments from your system.

 

 
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