I’m too old to serve in the military these days, but I keep abreast of current Army policy and procedures via The Army Times. I was associated with the US Army in one form or another—Active, Reserve, and DA Civilian—for more than thirty years. As a Reserve Warrant Officer, I had four options after leaving active service: transfer to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) and live life as a civilian but periodically volunteer to go on special active duty tours to acquire retirement points; transfer to the inactive Standby Reserve and be available only for mobilization in case of all-out war or national emergency; retire if I had enough accumulative time in service and retirement points; or resign from the service entirely. I opted to transfer to the inactive Standby Reserve.
I had seen plenty of IRR soldiers—vets who had done their duty and thought they were finally free—involuntarily recalled to active reserve status for annual training or assignment to USAR units. Few were happy to be back in uniform. Many served admirably when recalled. Some acted like total shitheads. None ever expected to be back in combat.
When it happened to me—when I received orders directing me to report for active duty in thirty days—I wondered what the hell was going on. I had already done my time and inactive standby status meant I wasn’t supposed to be called up except for a declared war. No war had been declared, but Ronald Reagan had changed the rules without telling anyone the rules had changed. He reorganized the total force structure and transferred everyone in standby to active IRR. My involuntary recall, ordered by the Secretary of Defense, seriously disrupted my life at a time when I was just beginning to get things together as a writer. I was forced to shave, get a haircut, fish my dusty duffle bags out of the back of the closet, update my uniforms (fatigues were out and battledress was in; tan class A shirts were out and puke green was in; Army Green overcoats and raincoats were out and black trenchcoats were in), find someone to take care of my apartment and feed my cats, kiss my girlfriend (I was between marriages) goodbye, go to AFEES for a current physical, visit the nearest army base (Fort Sheridan) for travel arrangements and travel vouchers, draw an advance against pay at FAO, and do it all in under four weeks. This I had to do on my own time, of course, not on the Army’s dime.
The same thing happened to me twice more after I was released from the first involuntary tour. When I received the third set of active duty orders, I called my friends at the WO Branch and asked them how I could get out this chicken shit outfit. Gretta and I had just been married, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave her behind while I went off and played soldier. The only way I could get the recall orders rescinded was to resign from the service—voluntarily give up accumulated retirement benefits—so I agreed, they sent me the forms, and I signed them and received my honorable discharge. I sat out the first and second gulf wars in the comfort of my own home while 30,000 soldiers and marines from the IRR were involuntarily recalled to active duty service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had devoted half of my life to being ready to respond when the balloon went up. When it finally did go up, I was left out of the action.
Now I read in the Army Times that new plans are underway to prepare the IRR for involuntary mobilization to meet manpower shortages as the active forces draw down from wartime strengths. Critics claim DOD has utilized “the IRR as a ‘back-door draft’ that disrupted the lives of veterans who were trying to assimilate into the civilian world and workforce and move on with their post-service lives,” and that’s certainly true.
Soldiers are pawns on a chessboard where opposing players—politicians and generals—sacrifice pawns to gain strategic advantage. Most games end in stalemates because to capture the King means game over, and players want only to keep playing. After each stalemate, the board gets reset with new pawns in place. Without pawns, the backboard becomes vulnerable to attack and the game soon ends in a decisive victory for one side or the other. Western players have a vested interest in continuing the game without anyone winning. They have no end-game strategy. If they have no more pawns to play, they’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Eastern and Middle Eastern players do have end-game strategies. They play the game solely to win. There are no rules in the game they play. There are only winners and losers. They have plenty of pawns lined up to be sacrificed. We don’t.
That’s why the IRR is so critically important. It provides plenty of pawns and even a few knights. Just because one side packs up the chessboard and walks away doesn’t mean the game’s over. Politicians and generals know that. But they pretend they don’t. The game will continue until one side emerges as the victor.
Once again politicians are changing the rules. Soldiers who enlisted for eight years but served only three or four years on active duty will be subject to involuntary recall. Here are some of the proposed changes according to the 2 November 2015 Army Times:
“Assigning IRR members to reserve units would help integrate them into the operational force more efficiently and effectively. In 2012, the Army began assigning troops who were separating and shifting into the IRR to specific reserve units. Those personnel are not required to drill or even maintain contact with their assigned units, but it gives those veterans a military point of contact if needed, Army officials said.
“Today’s IRR troops do not receive a Common Access Card, a primary form of military identification, because they have access to few if any military benefits. The reserve policy board suggests DoD give them a version of the access card to expedite integration if needed.
“Current law also limits the use of IRR troops for specific high-demand contingency operations. But the reserve board suggests moving to a policy that would ‘improve access to IRR personnel to support mission requirements in peacetime as well as contingencies,’ according to the letter to Carter.
“To encourage troops to remain in the IRR, the reserve board suggests offering them access to the same Tricare health benefits available to today’s Selected Reserve members and possibly offering them credit toward retirement benefits, in the event they want to resume a military career in the active or reserve components in the future.”
It’s a game, people. It’s all a game. And the game won’t be over until the fat lady holding the torch in New York Harbor sings.