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Callup rumors worry reservists

They have served the military, but now they're home, with new lives. Hanging over them: that they might be called back.

By LEONORA LaPETER, Times Staff Writer
Published June 12, 2004

[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Jaye Lindsay, 23, hopes he won't have to re-enlist his old Army boots for service in Iraq. He's worn them in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Jaye Lindsay would like to be finished with the military.

A U.S. Army infantryman for four years, the 23-year-old served time in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and Djibouti before his tour ended in April.

Now he has started a new life in Brooksville, taking college classes by day and working as a supervisor for United Parcel Service at night.

But Lindsay and others who have come home after serving military time worry they may be summoned back to duty in Iraq.

Their fears have been stoked by an internal Army memo that has bounced around the Internet from recruiters to soldiers and their families, detailing plans of a mobilization of 28,400 members of the inactive reserve.

The Army says it has no current plans to call up large groups of inactive reserves, but many soldiers and their families are worried and confused.

"Don't treat us like mushrooms and keep us in the dark," Lindsay said. "There's hundreds and hundreds of people who have heard the same rumor and gossip, and everyone's passing it around trying to figure out what I'm trying to figure out. Every mother from here to Wyoming is scared out of their mind. They're saying, "Please tell me he doesn't have to go.' They're looking for answers."

Officials with the Army Reserve acknowledge the existence of the callup plan, but say it was not implemented. The Army has the authority to call up these soldiers, who have finished active duty and are serving out contracts as inactive reservists, usually for four years. However, such involuntary callups are rare.

"Really, all I can say with any certainty is that it could happen and no decision has been made," said Steven Stromvall, deputy director of public affairs for the Army Reserve.

This pool of inactive reservists, known as the Individual Ready Reserve, was created to fill vacancies in times of emergency. A number of former soldiers were called back after Sept. 11, 2001. Before that, the last time they were tapped was during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when 20,000 were called for service.

In January, the Army got permission to mobilize up to 6,500 inactive reservists for up to 24 months. It created a list of 22,000 people who still had time on their contracts. So 700 Army Reserve recruiters began calling them, seeking volunteers.

Stromvall said some 2,000 have agreed to reenter the Army. But recruiters for both the Army Reserve and the National Guard took the pitch a little too far, telling many of these inactive reservists they eventually would be forced to return if they didn't volunteer for the Guard or the Reserve. Recruiters have since been told to stop using this tactic, but the word spread quickly.

Lindsay first learned of it after he talked with several former fellow soldiers in Virginia, Washington, Minnesota and Montana, who told him they were being called up to serve again. Some were asked to volunteer. Others were told they would have to serve. Still others were told they better volunteer first to avoid being involuntarily sent back overseas in the coming months.

So he turned to the Internet and came across numerous discussions about the subject, as well as the "warning order" plan to call up thousands of soldiers involuntarily. From being in the Army, he said, he knows a warning order typically prepares subordinates for a plan and is usually followed by an operation order.

The e-mail passed among sergeants in the U.S. Army Recruiting Command had directed the Reserve to mobilize all ready reserve soldiers in three phases, said Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve.

The plan was to begin May 7 with a request for 8,618 volunteers. This was to be followed by an involuntary callup between May 18 and 31 of 23,000 former soldiers with time remaining in their contracts. Then beginning June 1, it would tap up to 5,400 retired soldiers who had no time remaining on their contracts.

"We will track down every soldier," stated the e-mail, which has passed through so many hands that the Times obtained it from an inactive reservist and a Florida National Guard recruiter independently.

Stromvall acknowledged the existence of the plan, though he said he didn't think it originated in the Army Reserve. He said the e-mail was a mistake, a plan that was never implemented.

"It was amazing how quick it went around," he said. "Thanks to an e-mail, one mistake can spread instantly. There has been a low level of mobilizing people from the Individual Ready Reserve that's been going on for quite a few months. It's on the order of 400 people during the last six to eight months. But this plan with the phases, it just didn't happen. Somebody put out some stuff when there was no decision."

Stromvall pointed out that many of the plan's dates have passed and everyone would know if some 28,400 members of the ready reserve had been pushed into service.

He declined to offer details about the e-mail's origin, but said no one had been disciplined for it.

"A mistake is a mistake and we all learn from it," he said. "People looked into it and it was corrected. No one was strung outside a building for it."

Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the military is stretched so thin it was inevitable it would begin tapping those classified as ready reservists.

"The problem you have is that they are deploying whole units in Iraq," he said. "During Vietnam, if a unit was short, you sent more draftees. Well, they don't have more draftees and it's hard to take someone who joins the active Army and put them in the Reserve or Guard units. So they're taking the Individual Ready Reserve."

There are now at least 135,000 soldiers in Iraq, and the Army just withdrew some troops from South Korea to send there. It also implemented a "stop-loss" policy, preventing soldiers who have deployed or are about to deploy from leaving even if they have finished their Army service.

Korb suggested that the stop-loss policy might solve the problem and avoid the need to tap so heavily into the inactive reserves.

Even so, worried soldiers have made it a big topic of discussion on bulletin boards and forums across the Internet. Many are convinced it is only a matter of time before they will be called up.

In one discussion forum called Outside the Beltway, soldier after soldier wrote they had been contacted to rejoin, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Many said they had heard from recruiters who told them to join up voluntarily or be forced to do so.

"I have one year (left on my contract) ... and my sister has 10 months and we just got the calls telling us we had to rejoin a unit," wrote Daphne on May 17. "We are both stay-at-home moms now and are devastated with the fact that we may be deployed. ... My children were in tears when I told them the possibility was near. I so wish I had never joined. If I didn't have kids, I would love the Army. But right now, I am sick with anxiety. ..."

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 23:46:13]

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