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With 8,500 more reservists ordered to active duty in the past week, the mobilization for the war on terror and on Iraq now includes 177,000 reservists and National Guardsmen.

During the Cold War, a reserve call-up was often symbolic, to show U.S. resolve. Today, America can’t go to war, or even adequately defend its homeland, without Reserves in a prominent role.

That fact, more obvious since Sept. 11, 2001, has Congress, the Bush administration, Reserve force leaders and service associations looking for ways to ease the operational strain, reduce administrative hassles and ensure adequate compensation for reserve components.

The initiatives are in different stages of development. One near to becoming law would restore tax breaks on unreimbursed travel expenses for drilling reservists. Defense officials, meanwhile, are studying ways to improve Reserve family medical coverage and to resurrect mobilization insurance for reserve income protection.

By September, Congress should have two new reports in hand on the adequacy of reserve compensation — one from the General Accounting Office and another from the Defense Department. Those could generate important legislative initiatives in 2004, an election year.

Other changes are ahead. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is worried that too many critical missions reside exclusively in the Reserves, and has ordered a look at “rebalancing” missions and structure.

Finally, Defense officials have a study in hand from The Wexford Group International of Vienna, Va., on streamlining 29 “reserve duty status” categories down to no more than nine. This would reduce sharply the paperwork needed to move reservists on and off active duty, by shifting Reserves to the same pay and benefits system used by active forces.

The practice of reservists drawing two days of basic pay for a single day’s drill would end, under the plan not yet embraced by Defense officials. Any drill day or training day instead would count as active duty, earning a full day’s basic pay plus allowances. That would be less than two days’ basic pay, so reservists also would get a retainer pay to make up the difference.

The goal would not be to change the value of reserve pay but to reduce paperwork for active duty commands that rely increasingly on Reserves, according to a briefing for the Reserve Forces Policy Board.

Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., led a congressional delegation to Europe in January where it met with more than 200 reserve personnel to discuss mobilization, voluntary recall and the impact on families and civilian jobs.

The delegation, in a report to colleagues, noted that reserve support to U.S. European Command alone was equal to 7,000 active duty troops, handling crucial missions including intelligence, force protection and port security.

At EUCOM, that reliance on reserves was expected to grow. The delegation predicted more involuntary, short-notice mobilizations and that, over time, would lower Reserve unit retention. The high tempo of operations already had some “telling people not to join the reserves,” the report said.

The delegation concluded that much of the strain on Reserves results from an active duty drawdown since 1991 that was just too steep.

Before the last Persian Gulf War, reservists together served a million days on active duty. That total, even before Sept. 11, was up to 13 million.

“This is not your father’s reserve. This is not even my reserve, and I retired in ’94,” said Stephen Anderson, legislative counsel for the Reserve Officer Association. “This is a whole new game.”.

Comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111 or send e-mail to milupdate@aol.com

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