From: Susan Morris
Sent: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 1:35 PM
To: Susan Morris
Subject: Up to 2,500 discharged Marines face recall to duty
Up to 2,500 discharged Marines face recall to duty
Move is Corps’ first since Iraq invasion
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | August 23, 2006
WASHINGTON — Up to 2,500 Marines will be recalled to active duty to make up for a critical shortage of specialists to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps said yesterday, the first time since the invasion of Iraq three years ago that Marine commanders have taken the extraordinary step of drafting back into uniform those who have left the ranks.
The former Marines, who had been trained for positions ranging from military police to combat engineer, will be returned to service for up to 18 months and are expected to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2007, officials said. They are among tens of thousands of former military personnel who have been discharged from the service and entered civilian life, but who may be required to return in an emergency for as long as eight years after leaving the service.
The announcement was made a day after President Bush vowed to keep US forces in Iraq for the remainder of his presidency, warning that withdrawing the estimated 138,000 American troops prematurely would be a “disaster.” Nevertheless, the involuntary call-up was unexpected and served as a reminder of the strain on US ground combat units, which have served multiple tours in both conflicts and have suffered the brunt of US casualties. There are 22,000 Marines in Iraq.
“This is an extraordinary series of events,” Senator Jack Reed , a Rhode Island Democrat and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a telephone interview. “It is symptomatic of the very difficult burden the troops are bearing.”
The Army has already issued orders to recall about 10,000 discharged soldiers since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, but many of them were granted exemptions. Of those, about 5,000 have been mobilized; about half of them are now serving overseas. Sixteen percent of them volunteered to return to service.
However, it is the first time the Marines have called back personnel who have left the service. The Corps has met its recruiting goals, has been able to retain a sufficient number of seasoned combat veterans, and has been authorized by Congress to increase its overall ranks, but says it is short about 1,200 specialists in engineering, military police work, communications, and intelligence operations.
There are about 59,000 former Marines in what’s known as the Individual Ready Reserve; President Bush has authorized the Corps to call up twice the number it needs as a hedge against service members who qualify for hardship exemptions or cannot serve for other reasons.
In 2003, the Marine Corps was authorized to call up as many as 7,500 Marines from the reserve pool in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. Only about 2,658 orders were issued, however, when the military stormed Baghdad within a few weeks. Approximately 2,000 retired Marines actually served.
“When Baghdad fell we thought that this was not going to be a prolonged battle,” said Major Steven O’Connor, Marine Corps spokesman .
Three years later, however, the Iraq war has spiraled into a bloody insurgency, and sectarian violence is on the rise. Some 7,000 US troops have been moved from posts across the country to beef up security in Baghdad. One Army unit already in the process of returning home — including 300 troops that had already reached the United States — got orders extending their tour in Iraq.
At the same time, the remnants of the radical Taliban regime in Afghanistan, weakened during the initial US invasion in late 2001, have gained new strength. This summer, an estimated 22,000 US troops have been involved in some of the most direct combat there since the conflict began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Still, the Marines’ announcement raised eyebrows among some military specialists yesterday.
“The announcement surprised me,” said Charles Henning , a retired Army officer who specializes in military affairs at the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of the Library of Congress. “I see no indication that they are having trouble manning their units.”
Henning said the Marines’ seven-month combat tours have perhaps “placed enough strain on the system and they don’t want to be sending people back three or four times,” he said. But it also could be that the rising US casualties in Iraq — where more than 2,600 troops have died and tens of thousands have been injured since the invasion — may be taking a toll on heavily used units.
The Marine Corps said yesterday that it was making every effort to soften the blow for the Marines returning to duty. For example, the call-up will spare Marines who are in their first year out of uniform, while those who haven’t seen as much combat will go to the top of the list.
“If we have two Marines with the same qualifications, we can choose the one with fewer combat tours or the less recent combat tour,” according to a five-page Marine Corps explanation drawn up for yesterday’s announcement.
Meanwhile, officials said that since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the Marine Corps said it has required all members of the Individual Ready Reserve to report in once a year to be reminded that they still must serve if called. They are also informed of training opportunities and encouraged to join their local Marine Corps Reserve unit to maintain their military skills. Each Marine is paid $165 for reporting.
Still, some of the Bush administration’s critics have labeled the practice of recalling discharged personnel a “back-door draft.” Some former troops have filed suit against the Defense Department, opposing their call-ups.
Some critics have said the practice is simply a quick fix for a long-term problem: filling the ranks with qualified volunteers.
“When most people make the decision to leave the active force they purse a whole new civilian life,” said Reed, a former Army Ranger. “It is not like they expected a call any minute. It is not like reservists that train every month. This places a huge burden on these young people.”
Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the White House has resisted calls from Congress to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to help relieve some of the pressure.
“Filling holes in this fashion is bad for morale, unit cohesion, and retention,” Meehan said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It is a stop-gap measure, but I don’t think it can make up for our long-term policies that are breaking our military.”
Bryan Bender can be reached at email@example.com.