January 9, 2006

US Army to boot reserve soldiers who won’t fight

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army said on Monday it will begin the process of kicking out 80 reserve soldiers who have ignored for about a year and a half mobilization orders for likely duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

They are members of the 110,000-strong Individual Ready Reserve, a manpower pool of people currently leading civilian lives who were previously in the regular Army or reserves but still have some service obligation remaining. Many have been out of uniform for years.

The Army said it has issued mobilization orders to about 5,700 people in the IRR, with the bulk of these going out in the summer of 2004. The Army said it will soon begin holding "separation proceedings" in St. Louis for 80 IRR soldiers who failed to report for duty in accordance with their mobilization orders.

Until the Iraq war, the IRR had been a seldom-tapped personnel reserve, but the military has been strained in maintaining troop levels in the war that began in March 2003. The United States currently has 153,000 troops in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said the 80 soldiers face the possibility of "other than honorable" discharges from the military. Hilferty said they had not been declared absent without leave, or AWOL, and no criminal charges had been brought.

This marks the first formal action taken against those who have ignored mobilization orders. Asked whether they could face criminal charges, Hilferty said, "It's possible, but it's not part of the current plan."

Hilferty said that while the Army has been able to contact the 80 soldiers, it has been unable to locate 383 others in the IRR who also have been given mobilization orders.

He said the Army has not been able to determine whether they are ignoring the orders or whether they were simply unaware of them, perhaps because they had moved and the Army did not know how to find them.


"It would be inappropriate to give them a discharge," Hilferty said. "They could be wanting to go. We just can't find them. America moves a lot. It's a mobile society."

Army soldiers have taken on most of the ground combat duties in the Iraq war, with Marines also carrying a load. More than 2,200 U.S. troops have died in the war and more than 16,000 others have been wounded in combat.

Hilferty said a military board will decide the fate of the 80 people in separation proceedings, and hearings will take place even if an individual does not show up.

A discharge that is less-than-honorable could affect the soldier's benefits and harm civilian job prospects, the Army said. The proceedings may result in some of the 80 being retained on the IRR, the Army said.

According to December statistics, the latest available, the Army has granted exemptions from service to 1,616 members of the IRR who asked not to be mobilized for health, family or other reasons. The Army said 3,954 of the 5,764 given mobilization orders had reported for duty. Most have been deployed for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army said.

Members of the IRR do not receive pay or benefits from the Army except during the infrequent times they are deployed or engaged in military training.