Saturday, January 13, 2007

Military Eases Its Rules for Mobilizing Reserves

Published: January 12, 2007
The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 — The Pentagon announced steps Thursday to make more reservists available for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan by changing the policies that govern how often members of the Army National Guard and Reserve can be mobilized.

The new rules mean that individual Guard members and entire units that have already been deployed in the last five years may be called up again for as long as 24 consecutive months, officials said. In practice, the Pentagon intends to try to limit future mobilizations to no more than a year, once every five years, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.

The policy change was brought on by the prolonged American troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and military officials said it would have been necessary even if President Bush had not decided to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

The change, announced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at a White House news conference, will enable the Bush administration to call up tens of thousands of Guard members who were off limits under the previous rules, without having to issue another politically delicate mobilization order.

The decision to send five active-duty combat brigades to Iraq in the next few months means the Army will need to call up National Guard combat brigades that have already done one-year tours in Iraq, and to do so sooner, officials said.

A senior military official said that by "this time next year," the Pentagon "probably will be calling again on Guard units that have previously done combat tours."

General Pace told reporters that some of the Guard units “that will be mobilized in the coming period will not have had five years since their last mobilization.” Some, he said, will have been home for four years and some for only three.

Until now, the Defense Department’s policy on employing Guard and Reserve units was that soldiers’ time on active duty could not exceed a cumulative total of 24 months in any five-year period. Under the new rules, the cumulative limit is removed.

The result, officials said, is that soldiers who have already done a tour in Iraq in the last five years can now be sent back to Iraq if their entire unit is remobilized. The goal of limiting deployments to a year is meant to offset the burden on Guard members, who must leave civilian jobs to serve.

Until now, many members of the Army National Guard, which has an authorized total strength of 350,000 soldiers, have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as individuals, sometimes for 18 months or longer. Mr. Gates said the Pentagon would now mobilize units, not individuals. Any soldiers who have already done tours will again be eligible, regardless of previous deployments, if their units are called into service.

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