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Monday, January 26, 2004
 
The Draft Inches Closer

The Army Reserve, once thought of as a way for enlistees to earn some extra money while serving only one weekend a month except in cases of war or serious emergency, will be radically different in the future, if its commander gets his way.

Under a plan spelled out Tuesday by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, the mobilization system would be changed fundamentally so that Reserve members would be scheduled for mobilization every four or five years for periods of nine to 12 months.

Gone would be the days of training limited to a weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.

Some in the Army Reserve have gone many years without being mobilized; others have been mobilized repeatedly. Helmly said his approach would remove the uncertainty but acknowledged this might not sit well with some Reserve members who count on not being mobilized.

"There will be some people who will say, `I do not wish to be a part of that kind of force,"' Helmly said.

To offset those losses, he wants the Army to begin offering bonuses to soldiers leaving the active-duty Army to persuade them to join the Reserves.


I don't really see how this is going to work. People leaving the regular Army are doing so because they'd rather take their chances in the dismal civilian job market than face continued deployment and war. They've watched the Bush administration cut combat pay and medical benefits for both regular and reserve units. Deployed reservists are widely perceived as being given fewer resources and less support than their full-time counterparts.

If future deployments are to be longer and more frequent, current laws regarding employer nondiscrimination against reservists will need to be reevaluated. Skilled workers (i.e., more desirable recruits) aren't going to want to give up their paychecks, and companies are going to balk at having their productivity pulled out from under them.

This announcement raises another question: between Bush's calls for increased military spending and professed desire to get out of Iraq quickly, why is there a need to squeeze more out of the Reserve? It's possible there are plans for one or more additional regime changes that will keep our troops occupied for the foreseeable future, but I don't think the administration is going to risk it too soon after being so badly burned in the Iraq fiasco. More likely, people are opting out of the Army in droves, and this initiative is a stopgap measure to slow the bleeding.

Whatever the reason, it looks like the recently replenished draft boards may soon have something to do.