ARLINGTON, Va. — Half the Individual Ready Reserves members given orders by the Army to fight the war on terror have asked for either a delay or an exemption to the order, and Army officials are approving the majority — 66 percent — of the requests.

Hundreds of other IRR members, meanwhile, simply have failed to show up at deployment stations when ordered to do so.

And instead of declaring the scofflaws as “absent without leave,” or AWOL, the Army is choosing to give these people “the benefit of the doubt,” Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman in the Pentagon, said in a Tuesday interview.

The combination of IRR deferments and no-shows is slowing the Army’s effort to fill critical slots in deploying units.

“It would be fair to say there’s a delay,” Hart said.

Nevertheless, “the [Army] leadership is not alarmed” by the state of the IRR call-up, Hart said.

“We haven’t even called the [full] number [of IRR members] we were authorized to call,” Hart said.

In January 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the Army could call up to 6,500 people from the IRR in order to fill empty slots in units mostly bound for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The IRR is a category of servicemembers who have left active duty or active reserves service but still have time left on their obligation to serve.

With the intention of minimizing the disruption to civilians no longer in uniform, Army officials said they “scrubbed the lists” of requests to pinpoint 4,402 “absolutely must-fill” positions.

Knowing that not everyone called would make the cut, the same officials decided to send orders to 5,674 IRR members to report for training and deployment, a process that will extend through March 2005.

But attrition is turning out to be higher than Army officials had anticipated.

Of the 3,845 mobilization orders sent to IRR members as of Dec. 28, 1,919 people requested either a delay or an exemption from the deployment, Hart said.

An adjudication board at the Army’s Human Resources Command in St. Louis has approved 1,258 of the requests, Hart said.

Only 85 requests have been disapproved, while 576 requests are pending a decision.

Meanwhile, another 452 IRR members who were supposed to report to their mobilization stations before Dec. 28 not only did not contact the board, they did not show up at all.

They failed to report “for varying reasons,” Hart said, such as not understanding that they have a legal obligation to do so, or because Army personnel officials “did not have the correct mailing address.”

However, the Army “hasn’t categorized anyone in AWOL status,” Hart said, and is not moving to prosecute or punish any IRR member who did not report as ordered.

Instead, officials in the Army’s Human Resource Command “is contacting [these 452 people] by phone … to inform them of their different options,” such as formally requesting an exemption or delay, Hart said.

Asked why the Army officials appear to be treating the IRR so leniently, Hart replied, “This is a special group of people.”

“We’re being compassionate with this group of individuals, and giving them the benefit of the doubt,” she said.

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