By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer, AP June 12, 2007
WASHINGTON - For the first time since the Iraq war began, the Army is notifying thousands from a special category of reservists that they must report this summer for medical screening and other administrative tasks.
The decision to issue "muster" orders for 5,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve, or IRR, is not a prelude to a new mobilization or deployment of reservists to Iraq, an Army spokesman said. Instead it is part of a new effort to fix an IRR call-up system that failed on multiple fronts early in the Iraq war.
One problem was that the Army simply could not contact many of its IRR members; it had allowed them to ignore the requirement that they notify the Army of a change in residence. Some turned out to be deceased; others were physically unfit for duty or faced personal problems that barred them from serving.
To correct that the Army is now requiring that they show up in person for what it calls a one-day "physical muster." The idea is to ensure that when and if more IRR members are needed for Iraq or other active-duty deployments the Army will at least know which are fit for duty and where to find them.
The Army planned to announce the decision on Thursday.
Eventually all IRR members will get the order to report for screening; the first 5,000 are considered a test group.
IRR members are people who were honorably discharged after finishing their active-duty service but have not yet completed the eight-year commitment they made when they joined the Army. While in the IRR they are not required to train; they are not paid, and thus many believed they had no further active-duty obligation. Some are former officers who chose not to resign their commission and thus remained on the IRR rolls.
There are now about 78,000 members of the IRR, down from more than 110,000 three years ago.
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, said the 5,000 who are receiving "muster" orders this month were picked at random, and they are not necessarily in line to get mobilized and sent to Iraq.
The first 5,000 will receive orders to report to one of four reserve centers — in Tacoma, Wash.; Fort Totten, N.Y.; Fort Meade, Md.; or Los Alamitos, Calif. — and will be paid a $176 stipend once they finish the one-day process, Gall said. All 5,000 live within a 50-mile radius of one of the reserve stations, he said.
The reporting is mandatory. It will begin in mid-July and run through August.
The last time the Army required IRR members to report to a reserve station for administrative processing was 2000, according to Raymond Gall, a spokesman for the Army's Human Resources Command in St. Louis. After that the Army considered it too expensive to repeat, but the Iraq experience changed Army minds.
"The IRR pool is not in the kind of shape we would like it to be," Gall said.
Prior to the Iraq war, IRR members were rarely called to active duty — and many believed they never would be called — but when the Army found itself stretched by unexpected combat demands in Iraq in the summer of 2004 it began issuing mobilization orders. Hundreds of surprised IRR members refused to report or simply ignored their mailed mobilization orders, and the Army realized it had lost control of the situation.
About 5,700 of the approximately 10,700 IRR members who have been sent mobilization orders over the past three years requested that their mobilization date be delayed or that they be exempt from service, and nearly 90 percent of those requests were granted by the Army, according to Army figures as of March 7.
There are now about 2,000 IRR members on active duty, mostly in Iraq.