Reservists air war concerns with secretary
ARLINGTON, Va. — If you were a reservist and could ask Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall one question, what would it be? Deployed Stars and Stripes reporter Jason Chudy asked Reserve and Guard members in Iraq just that. On Monday, Lisa Burgess took the queries straight to the top man.
So here are Hall’s answers, with some comments and clarifications from his spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Bob Stone, who was present during the interview. Stripes has also added information where questions were outside of Hall’s purview or for where he did not have immediate answers.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Riippi, 333 MP Co., Illinois National Guard, Freeport, Ill.: “What’s the likelihood after we get back of getting called up in the next couple of years?”
Hall: I think the good news for the sergeant and everybody is it’s a recognized problem, up to and including [Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld].
Over 13 years, we’ve had eight mobilizations. And we’ve asked ourselves the question, what are your chances of being mobilized once? It’s around 64 percent. What’s your chance of being mobilized twice? It’s around 4 percent. And how about mobilized three or more times? It’s about 1 percent.
Military police [as Riippi is] are one of the “stressed” units. And what we have discovered is that although the percentage of the individual being mobilized two and three and four times [is low], if you’re in rates [MOSs] like civil affairs, military police, air traffic control, medical — there’s a whole list of those — we are mobilizing them more than we want to.
So … over the next couple of years we’re undertaking rebalancing efforts that will allow us to not have to have, hopefully, multiple call-ups [of stressed career fields].
Spc. Roy Champion, 288th Quartermaster Co., Victoria, Texas: “Is there a designated amount of time we’ll have at home when we return before we have to deploy again?”
Hall: The Secretary of Defense is tremendously concerned about the word “predictability.”
He has said, and all of us understand, that one of the key elements for family members, guardsmen and reservists, employers, and for active duty is predictability. [We are working on] a rotational policy that would say to any guardsman or reservist, “Here is when you can expect to be called up in the next six years.”
[So] the answer is both the predictability model [we’re working on] and the rebalancing — hopefully we’ll [soon] be able to tell people as best we can … what to expect over the next few years.
Spc. Kimberly Lijewski, 333 MP Co., Illinois National Guard, Freeport, Ill.: “Why are active-duty component soldiers allowed to [leave the service as scheduled] when entire Reserve or Guard units are held under stop loss?”
Hall: If I’m a Guard or Reserve person in a certain MOS, and the person sitting next to me in the foxhole is active duty and the same MOS, and I say, “Gee, I have stop loss, why don’t you?” it might be easy to assume it’s because of [that person’s Reserve status]. And that’s not the case. It’s a more complex equation of meeting the combatant commander’s requirements.
Sometimes it might end up that some Guard and Reserve [are stop-lossed]; there may be times it’s active duty.
But I don’t think it’s a generally correct statement to say that it’s only applied to the Guard or Reserve and not applied to active duty. Certainly there’s not a policy from my office to say, “Apply [stop loss] only to Guard and Reserve, don’t apply to active duty.”
That’s not how we look at the problem. We look upon the problem as meeting the requirements for manpower across the board for the total force.
Stone: You’ve got to also remember the personnel system that replaces active-duty soldiers and units in Iraq is the active-duty personnel system, and the Reserve component guys are being filled from back at home station [where the rules governing the replacement of soldiers in a unit are different].
Sgt. Abel Zamarripa, 288th Quartermaster Co., Victoria, Texas: “We’ve had a lot of problems with pay, such as hostile fire pay and taxes being taken out. We’re classified as active duty, though we’re a Reserve unit. There are difficulties between the active duty, National Guard and Reserve [for pay issues]. Why does it take so long to make these changes? Then we’ve got to check our leave and earnings statement to make sure it was done.”
Hall: One of the things we have been concerned about for many years is that we did not have a common pay and personnel system for all services, and active and Reserve.
The department has addressed [the problem] with [the new Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, a computer software program announced Monday], which will make a common system so when you switch status from Reserve to active back and forth, there will be a very seamless paying of these pay and benefits.
The end goal is that you as a guardsman or reservist can walk into any installation in the world and have a common system.
Staff Sgt. Stephen Almeida, 6th Detachment (Reserve), 249th Engineering Battalion (Prime Power), Attleboro, Mass.: “What’s going on with this year’s budget? When are they going to pass the appropriations bill … so that we know that they’ve restored the increased family separation allowance and hazardous duty pay benefits?”
Hall: [As for details], this isn’t in my lane. [Pay and benefits issues are under a separate Pentagon office].
Editor’s note: President Bush signed into law Wednesday the Defense Appropriations Act, a bill that will give the Pentagon $368 billion for next year.
While the Defense Authorization Bill, still in Congress, is needed for a complete defense spending picture, the DOD has asked Congress to roll back the Family Separation Allowance and Imminent Danger Pay increases enacted in April (and retroactive to Jan. 1) for deployed forces and, instead, to raise Hardship Duty Pay only for military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If Congress agrees, FSA for tens of thousands of personnel would fall in January, from $250 a month down to $100, and IDP would drop from $225 a month down to $150. So, depending on individual circumstance, the pay cut could range from $75 to $225 a month.
Spc. Ramiro Quintero, 288th Quartermaster Co., Victoria, Texas: “Have the [Reserve/Guard] units that will remain in Iraq for a full year been identified? If so, when will they be notified?”
Hall: I think [Central Command’s leader, Army] Gen. [John] Abizaid has agreed that they need to make sure all the people who are presently there are told how they fit into [the 365-day boots on the ground] policy and when they rotate … .[But] that is a combatant commander type of communication. … I can’t give you a list of those [units, because] it’s not my lane.
Editor’s note: On Sept. 26, Army officials announced that the 30th Infantry Brigade, from North Carolina, would be mobilized for Iraq on Oct. 1, and the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas will be mobilized Oct. 12. Both units “can expect to be in the Iraq theater for up to 12 months,” with a total mobilization time of up to 18 months, according to the announcement.
The units are due to replace the 101st Airborne Division.
Officials also said the 81st Army National Guard Infantry Brigade, from Washington State, has been alerted.
— Military Update columnist Tom Philpott contributed to this report. E-mail Philpott at: email@example.com
Pentagon hopes to relieve stressed Reserve fields
ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon officials are working on a major rebalancing of the Reserve forces that will relieve pressure on “stressed,” or oft-deployed career fields such as military police, according to Thomas Hall.
The plan, called “rebalancing the force,” will also give reservists and National Guard members more advance information about when they can expect to deploy and for how long, Hall said Monday.
Details of the plan will be part of the 2005 budget submission that will go to Congress in January, said Hall, who is a retired two-star Navy admiral now responsible for the overall supervision of Reserve component affairs in the Pentagon.
Both the rebalancing and the look at pay and benefits are coming at a time when Congress and the general public is expressing increasing concern about the widespread use of Reserve forces to man U.S. military contingencies.
The “365 days boots on the ground” Iraq policy that is extending some Reserve tours to as much as 18 months is especially chafing to many reservists, their families and employers.
— Lisa Burgess