ARLINGTON, Va. — Army leaders are preparing to announce that those from the Individual Ready Reserve refusing to honor their mobilization orders will be declared “absent without leave,” according to Army and DOD officials.

The number of people to be declared AWOL “is very small — about 12,” an Army officer involved in developing the policy told Stripes on Wednesday.

But the move to punish the no-shows “is long overdue,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified.

The IRR is a category of servicemembers who have left active duty or active reserve service but still have time left on their obligation to serve. IRR members are in an active status, but do not perform regularly scheduled training.

In January 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to tap the IRR to fill slots in units bound for Iraq — the first IRR call-up since the Gulf War.

As of March 16, 370 of the 4,067 IRR members who have received mobilization orders had not reported as ordered, according to Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman.

Refusing to report for military duty is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with penalties ranging from a bad-conduct discharge to a court-martial and jail time.

Until now, however, Army officials had decided not to declare IRR members AWOL, largely because the Human Resources Command in St. Louis has done a poor job tracking the IRR force, and some of the no-shows may never have received their orders, the Army officer said.

“The IRR is broken, and we know it, and we need to fix it,” the officer said.

However, “a handful” of the 370 no-shows “are no-kidding AWOL,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Collins said March 24.

For those individuals, the Army’s patience is at an end, the officer working with the policy said.

The Army does not have the manpower to actively pursue AWOL soldiers, the officer said.

But the names of AWOL servicemembers are sent to a criminal database used by national and local agencies, which means that even a routine traffic stop could result in arrest and referral to the Army for prosecution.

Both Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, have approved the plan to declare recalcitrant call-ups as AWOL, the officer said.

The only remaining hurdle is for Rumsfeld to approve the AWOL listings, which Army officials anticipate will happen next week, the officer said.

“It’s about time,” Army Capt. Chris Ward, a combat engineer who was part of the IRR call-up, said in a Monday telephone call from Iraq.

“A big part of your morale is to think that what you’re doing is worthwhile and important,” said Ward, who has been in Iraq since Jan. 21. “But if the Army is so short of people [they are turning to the IRR], why haven’t they been enforcing the law?”

Knowing that there have not been any consequences for disobeying IRR mobilization orders, Ward said, “makes me wonder, could they have gotten by fine without me, either?”

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