May 11, 2006

Strained Army Reserve blocks officer departures

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Reserve, strained by
the Iraq war, has blocked hundreds of officers who have
finished their voluntary service commitment from leaving the
military, officials said on Thursday.

The Army Reserve has been applying a policy preventing
officers from resigning their military commissions if it has a
personnel shortage in their particular specialty or if they
have not yet been deployed for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan or in
a homeland defense mission, officials said.

"There is a global war on terrorism going on. We have
shortages in certain fields. We do what we do for the needs of
the country," said Army Reserve spokesman Steve Stromvall.

Roughly 400 officers have had their resignations rejected
under the policy, put in place in 2004, the Army Reserve said.

A small number have filed court challenges, saying that
while they are proud of their service, the Army Reserve's
policy is unlawful and breaches the concept of an all-volunteer

The Army Reserve, a force of part-time federal soldiers who
can be summoned by the Pentagon to active duty from civilian
life, missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal and is 5 percent
behind its year-to-date recruiting target seven months into
fiscal 2006.

The outgoing head of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James
Helmly, said in 2004 said it was "degenerating into a 'broken'
force" due to dysfunctional military policies.


"Every soldier that accepts a commission knows or should
know the circumstances under which he is accepting that
commission," Stromvall said.

"There is no fault to somebody asking to resign. They've
completed their eight years of service. They stepped up. They
served honorably. I have absolutely nothing critical to say
about them doing that. But circumstances are what they are,"
Stromvall added.

He declined to identify which specialties were experiencing

This policy is separate from "stop-loss," under which the
Army has forced tens of thousands of soldiers in units
designated for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan to continue serving
after their voluntary stints in the military ended.

The Pentagon has relied heavily on part-time Army Reserve
and National Guard soldiers in Iraq. As recently as last
summer, these soldiers made up 40 percent of the U.S. force in
Iraq, although the number has now dropped to about 20 percent.

In another development, officials said President George W.
Bush nominated Maj. Gen. Jack Stultz to replace Helmly, who has
headed the Army Reserve since May 2002. In an unusual move,
Helmly accepted a demotion in rank to serve as a U.S. military
representative in Pakistan.