Strained US Army Reserve blocks officer departures
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) The US Army Reserve, strained by the Iraq war, has blocked hundreds of officers who have finished their voluntary service commitment from leaving the military, officials said.
The Army Reserve has been applying a policy preventing officers from resigning their military commissions if it has a personnel shortage in their particular specialty or if they have not yet been deployed for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan or in a homeland defense mission, officials said.
''There is a global war on terrorism going on. We have shortages in certain fields. We do what we do for the needs of the country,'' said Army Reserve spokesman Steve Stromvall yesterday.
Roughly 400 officers have had their resignations rejected under the policy, put in place in 2004, the Army Reserve said.
A small number have filed court challenges, saying that while they are proud of their service, the Army Reserve's policy is unlawful and breaches the concept of an all-volunteer military.
The Army Reserve, a force of part-time federal soldiers who can be summoned by the Pentagon to active duty from civilian life, missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal and is 5 percent behind its year-to-date recruiting target seven months into fiscal 2006.
The outgoing head of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, said in 2004 said it was ''degenerating into a 'broken' force'' due to dysfunctional military policies.
'CIRCUMSTANCES ARE WHAT THEY ARE' ''Every soldier that accepts a commission knows or should know the circumstances under which he is accepting that commission,'' Stromvall said.
''There is no fault to somebody asking to resign. They've completed their eight years of service. They stepped up. They served honorably. I have absolutely nothing critical to say about them doing that. But circumstances are what they are,'' Stromvall added.
He declined to identify which specialties were experiencing shortages.
This policy is separate from ''stop-loss,'' under which the Army has forced tens of thousands of soldiers in units designated for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan to continue serving after their voluntary stints in the military ended.
The Pentagon has relied heavily on part-time Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers in Iraq. As recently as last summer, these soldiers made up 40 percent of the US force in Iraq, although the number has now dropped to about 20 percent.
In another development, officials said President George W Bush nominated Maj. Gen. Jack Stultz to replace Helmly, who has headed the Army Reserve since May 2002. In an unusual move, Helmly accepted a demotion in rank to serve as a US military representative in Pakistan.
REUTERS PDS PM0320