Washington -- The Army Reserve, whose part-time soldiers serve in combat and support
roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, is so hampered by misguided Army policies and practices
that it is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force, " the Reserve's
most senior general says.
Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, wrote in an internal memorandum
to the Army's top uniformed officer that the Reserve had reached the point of
being unable to fulfill its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and to regenerate
its forces for future missions.
The Army Reserve has about 200,000 soldiers, nearly 52,000 of them on active
duty for the war on terrorism, mainly in Iraq. They provide combat support,
medical care, transportation, legal services and other support. About 50 have
died so far in the Iraq war.
In the Dec. 20 memo to Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, Helmly
cited the strains of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan along with "restrictive"
and "dysfunctional" personnel policies imposed by Army and Pentagon
officials that "are eroding daily our ability to reconstitute into an effective
"The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet
other operational requirements," including those in classified contingency
plans for other potential wars or national emergencies, "and is rapidly
degenerating into a 'broken' force," Helmly wrote.
The burdens that Iraq places on the Army Reserve, a force of part-time soldiers
who hold combat support jobs as engineers, medics, military police and truck
drivers, among others, is but one part of Helmly's troubles. He also said he
had been frustrated in his efforts to overturn at least five personnel policies.
In one instance, Helmly wrote in his memo that he had about 16,400 soldiers
in the Army Reserve who were not meeting the terms of their contracts but were
being paid about $46 million in health and other benefits. The general said
he wanted the Army secretary to use his statutory authority to call these soldiers
to active duty. When that action was not taken, Helmly unsuccessfully requested
authority to discharge the soldiers, who are deemed "nonparticipants."
Helmly said in an interview he didn't know who had rejected his advice or why,
only that he had sent it up Army "channels."
Another policy Helmly has grappled with involves the Individual Ready Reserve,
a pool of 115,000 soldiers who are rarely used and do not train with or belong
to a unit. Last year, Helmly began shifting some of these soldiers to designated
units in what is known as the selected reserve for possible deployment overseas.
After he had shifted 2,000 of these soldiers, he was ordered to stop by Assistant
Army Secretary Reginald Brown.
Helmly said he believed more senior defense officials were at the center of
that decision, after some soldiers complained to members of Congress. "I
believe there was political pressure brought to bear," he said.
He also criticized the practice of offering Reserve soldiers an extra $1, 000
a month if they volunteer to be mobilized a second time. This confuses "volunteers"
with "mercenaries," he said.
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said Wednesday it was "deeply disturbing" that the head
of the Army Reserve feared his force was reaching the breaking point from the
the strains of overseas deployments and outdated personnel policies.
"By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the
successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden
on the Army Reserve and created this crisis," Reed said.
Rick Stark, a retired Army colonel and analyst at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, a Washington think tank that's examining the role
of part-time soldiers, said Helmly was "seeking to manage the force more
"He's a straight shooter," Stark said. "He has very strong opinions
about how to transform the Army Reserve."
Stark agreed that more soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve should be
shifted to units that could be sent to Iraq and elsewhere. Such action should
extend to the other branches of the armed services as well, Stark said, noting
that only about one-fourth of the 1.1 million reservists in the military were
in the ready reserve.
"Should they only be looking at the Army?" he asked.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.