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ARLINGTON, Va. — Some soldiers are about to switch jobs — whether they like it or not.

Under a long-standing authority called “Involuntary Classification,” Army officials are about to exercise their right to tell soldiers they need to take a different job in order to “rebalance the force,” Army officials said.

Beginning this week, around 140 soldiers will get a letter informing them that they’ve been reassigned, complete with a date to attend a school for retraining, along with information about whether they will need to pull up stakes and move permanently, or just attend the school in temporary duty status, according to Connie Marche, Chief of the Army’s Reclassification Management Branch.

Soldiers should have “at least 90 days notice” of the move.

“But it’s not optional,” Marche said in a Monday telephone interview. “It’s an order.”

The involuntary reclassification program is necessary because the Army — like the Navy and Air Force — has too many people doing Cold-War era jobs that aren’t relevant to today’s missions.

The Air Force and Navy are using programs that give first-term airmen and sailors in overmanned jobs a choice of changing to an area where they is a shortage of personnel when it’s time to re-enlist. If the members won’t do it, they often aren’t allowed to re-up.

But those two services can afford to lose members who don’t want to change jobs. The Air Force needs to cut 22,000 airmen by Sept. 30, 2005, because it is beyond its authorized end strength, while the Navy intends to reduce its size by 7,900 by the same time, in order to fund future technologies.

The Army, on the other hand, has primary responsibility for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With no end to either in sight, the Army can’t spare a soul. In fact, Congress has told the Army it needs to add another 30,000 soldiers over the next couple of years.

Nevertheless, the Army has tried the volunteer route, too.

The Army has not exercised its legal right to tell people to switch without giving them a 90-day volunteer period first since the early 1980s, Marche said.

If enough soldiers don’t take the bait, only then has the Army resorted to involuntary assignments.

The problem, Marche said, “is that we’ve never been too successful with … [asking] for volunteers … We all get comfortable with what we do and don’t want to make changes.”

The initial numbers of involuntary reclassifications are small because the Army needs to make its changes in “low-density” MOSs, where you probably have fewer than 1,000 soldiers,” Marche said.

Nor are the involuntary reclassification soldiers being asked to switch their basic career fields, just their sub-specialties within that field.

“We’re only going to do this if you’re going to be in the same career field, the logic being it won’t be such a drastic change” for soldiers, Marche said.

In those MOSs, “if you have just one more soldier, you can be over strength,” she said.

But the involuntary reclassification program will continue, and not always on a small scale, Marche said.

By the end of the year, as many as 700 intelligence soldiers may be ask to shuffle jobs, although the plans have yet to be finalized, she said.

Moving from an over-stressed field to an under-strength job has its advantages, even if it’s not by choice, Marche pointed out.

Overfilled MOSs “have stagnant promotion opportunities … and [a lack] of career-enhancing assignments,” which is not the case at all in undermanned areas, she said.

The first reclassification list ...

The Army reclassification will begin by focusing on subsets within five Military Occupational Specialties, or MOSs. The number is the career field; the letter is the subspecialty:

21B — Combat engineer, and 21J, general constructions equipment operator, to be reclassified to 21U, topographic analyst. Total affected: 10 soldiers.

74C — Telecommunications Operator — Maintainer, to be reclassified to 25B, information systems operator/analyst. Total affected: 50 soldiers.

88K — Transportation watercraft engineers, to be reclassified to 88K, watercraft operators. Total affected: 15 soldiers.

96H — Common Ground Station Operator, and 96R, Ground Surveillance System Operator. Reclassification MOS and number of affected soldiers unknown.

98H — Communications/Noncommunications Collector. Reclassification MOS and number of affected soldiers unknown.

Note: The Army also needs about 110 soldiers to move from 14S, Air Defense Avenger crewmember, and 14R, Air Defense Bradley Linebacker crewmember, to 14J, Air Defense Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence Tactical Operations Center Operator/Maintainer.

But before the service mandates the moves, soldiers in the J and R Air Defense MOSs will be given a 90-day voluntary period, Army officials said.

— Lisa Burgess

Stripes in 7

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