Requirement holds back some reservists
December 10, 2003
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Army 1st Lt. Sarah Whittington is missing something on her rank insignia — the other half of her captain’s bars.
Whittington, an Army Reserve emergency room nurse at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is among an unknown number of reservists and National Guard officers whose promotions are on hold while they are deployed.
At a time when more than 130,000 Army Reserve and National Guard troops have been activated to fight in the war against terror, the problem has again raised the specter of unequal treatment of Army Reservists.
The promotion problem stems from a requirement, which applies to both Army Reserve and National Guard troops, for soldiers to be in a position of the higher grade before they can be promoted, National Guard spokesman Maj. Hunt Kerrigan said.
The policy has hung up promotions for mobilized troops unless there is a vacancy within their mobilized unit, Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan said more than 100 National Guard officers aren’t being promoted because of the policy. A U.S. Army Reserve spokesman, Lt. Col. Boyd Collins, said he could not estimate how many reservists are affected.
Whittington has worked at the Army hospital in Germany since being deployed in March with Detachment 10, 94th General Hospital, an amalgam of Reserve units from Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. She was selected for promotion in July.
The requirement has delayed the promotion of three of the general hospital’s officers, said Capt. Mark Nelson, Company D commander.
Whittington, 56, of Shreveport, La., said the issue is another of what she considers a series of inequities between the way active-duty soldiers and Reserve soldiers are treated.
“It’s one more slap in the face,” she said. “I’m good enough to take care of our wounded troops, but I’m not good enough to get promoted.”
Nearly 79,000 National Guard soldiers are now deployed, including more than 42,000 involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kerrigan said. And 16,000 Army Reserve soldiers are deployed to OIF, along with another 40,000 reservists activated for other duties, Collins said.
Reserve leaders are aware of the problem and have been working to fix it, Collins said.
In fact, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, ordered in September that all mobilized Army Reserve soldiers be promoted as long as they were qualified and an existing vacancy was available.
“Current Army regulations governing the promotion of (Army Reserve) soldiers were clearly written for peacetime operations. … ” Helmly wrote in a Sept. 13 memo to top Reserve commanders. “As a result, our soldiers are being denied promotions they have earned merely because they are on active duty.”
That meant that several promotions went through — such as that of Whittington’s roommate, Capt. Jeanie Gehm. But Whittington missed that window because she still had to renew her security clearance.
“Our mobilized soldiers are working hard, risking their lives, and performing under considerable stress, along with their active component counterparts,” Helmly’s memo said. “There is no better environment in which to select and promote qualified and deserving soldiers than in the one for which they have trained.”
Since Helmly’s original order, however, Department of the Army officials decided to put the promotions order on hold while the policy was being revised, Collins said. In an Oct. 15 memo, Helmly suspended his order.
“He was trying to take care of his people and then the decision was overturned,” he said.
One officer serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the 34th Infantry Division, a unit with members from five Midwestern states, contacted his senators because of the problem.
In an e-mail to Stars and Stripes, 2nd Lt. H. James Little attached his letter to Wisconsin Sens. Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl.
“Without any remedy to this problem, you will see an increase in morale issues and retention problems in the United States Armed Forces, especially in the Army Reserves,” Little wrote.
The flip-flop has caused a lot of confusion among deployed reservists. As of this week, Reserve and Guard spokesmen said the policy had been smoothed out for enlisted soldiers, and promotions were going through. But it had yet to resolve the issue of delayed promotions for officers.
“A proposed policy would permit the promotion of officers without their being in a higher grade vacant position, provided they are assigned to a higher grade vacant position upon their return from mobilization,” Kerrigan said.