Uncle Sam shocks some veterans with recall to duty
Sunday, August 3, 2003
By TOM DAVIS
Army Capt. Richard Hinman says he's a "draftee" serving in a volunteer army.
Think about it, says Hinman. The West Point graduate, who left the military in 1999, didn't want to go to Iraq and Kuwait. But he got his orders on Feb. 8 and was sent overseas in May.
"I wanted to get out of this kicking-in-doors-with-guns kind of thing," said Hinman, who was looking forward to more time with his two children but is now serving at Camp Doha, Kuwait. "It was a real surprise."
And a shock, Hinman said in a telephone interview from Kuwait, because he was so unprepared. Even his old uniforms had been thrown away.
Hinman is an Individual Ready Reservist, one of about 300,000 former service members available for active duty in a time of crisis, according to the Pentagon. Each year, as thousands of military personnel finish their terms of active duty, they are placed on IRR status for a period that varies according to agreements they signed when they joined the service.
In some cases, a person on IRR status can be called up as many as 10 years after departure from the armed forces, the Pentagon says.
Although many people on IRR are never called back, the Department of Defense is relying on them more heavily as operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere stretch the military's manpower. And Hinman, who was enjoying civilian life, is returning to a life he had hoped to leave behind.
His wife, Josephine, who is living with her mother in Englewood Cliffs, had hoped so, too.
She recalled the "horror" she felt when her husband approached, carrying a FedEx envelope, with the letter from the Army inside. She was on a treadmill, in a gym at the family's Falls Church, Va., apartment complex, while their 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter were playing with friends.
"There was no explanation. He just knew he had to report," his wife said. "I said, 'What do you mean you got called back up?' There were no warnings that he may be one of the people tasked to go."
Military officials were unable to say how many IRRs have been activated, why Hinman was selected, or how long his IRR status will last. But they said they were surprised to hear that Hinman didn't appear to know the terms of his own reserve obligations.
"For a West Point grad to say he didn't understand his commitment is highly unusual," said Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon spokesman.
Unlike the more widely known and larger group of Selected Reservists - who train one weekend a month and two weeks each year and get paid for it - IRRs have almost no contact with the military. It's sort of an on-call list for inactive service men and women, and their call-up is typically seen as a last resort during hostilities.
While Selected Reservists - and also most members of the National Guard - train routinely, many do not have the same breadth of experience as IRRs, who are all veterans of active duty. Many IRRs have specialized skills.
And in this war, the Pentagon says, every reservist in Iraq has played an important role in the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime and maintaining the dangerous peacekeeping operations there.
The 36-year-old Hinman, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1988, has served three months in Iraq and Kuwait. He said his current job is briefing military officials, orally and in writing, on the progress of strategic operations.
His wife says her husband is a good writer, but much to her dissatisfaction, the Pentagon won't further explain why he was selected over so many thousands of others who were training regularly.
And she's confused as she watches others return to the States while he expects to stay overseas until February 2004.
She becomes anxious as she watches television reports of soldiers dying nearly every day, even though he is now far from the action and not involved in the door-kicking he spoke of. She did note that in June he was in Baghdad.
"At what point are you free?" she asked. "When he committed to West Point at 17, did he know he could be called back the rest of his life?"
IRR terms do expire, but Lt. Col. Bob Stone, an Army Reserve spokesman, said that because the nation has been in a state of emergency since the Sept. 11 attacks, the military must maintain its access to experienced veterans during crises.
That holds true in Iraq, where tensions remain high and it is time for some soldiers to return home. If someone doesn't understand that, Stone says, "they're probably not paying close enough attention."
The deployment of IRRs and the Inactive National Guard in war is nothing new, Stone said. Since the Selective Service System was eliminated 30 years ago, that "manpower pool" has become an important resource in a volunteer military, he said. In virtually every conflict since the Vietnam War, they have been called to duty, he said.
In Iraq, Stone said, the Marines even deployed some IRRs to serve in infantry units.
It is difficult to measure the enthusiasm or frustration level of the average IRR overseas.
Surely there are members of the IRR who welcome the opportunity to serve again. Grateful for years of military pay and benefits and training, they are motivated by a loyalty to their former comrades and a sense of duty.
The Pentagon could not provide a list of those who have been called up.
Hinman put The Record in contact with Maj. Joseph Way, who was also an IRR activated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Way said in a telephone interview from Louisiana that he was upset to find himself thousands of miles from home until he was permitted to return to be with his terminally ill wife.
"I was about to go freaking bananas," Way said about his time in the Middle East.
Hinman said he served in Panama in 1989, a year after graduating from West Point, leaving his wife alone for 13 months. Since then, she said, she has raised their two children largely on her own, since he has served months at a time in places such as Peru and the Persian Gulf. She was glad in 1999, when he decided to leave the Army and join the Secret Service. But in that job, there was more travel, and more time away from home.
"Even in the Secret Service, he did a five-month school away from us," his wife said. "In the presidential campaign, he went to the Democratic National Convention, he went to the Olympics, and he went with [vice presidential candidate Joseph] Lieberman to a dinner. It was like literally every weekend he was gone."
Last year, Hinman took a job with the U.S. Foreign Service, which staffs embassies and consulates around the world, and the family lived in Virginia. They were planning to move to India this month, and the children were enrolled in international schools for the coming academic year, she said.
They looked forward to India because the job would have allowed for the most family time they've ever had. Now that plan, like the rest of them, has been scrapped.
"Our family are survivors, and we'll manage without him," Hinman's wife said. "But it's another year of not seeing his children. You only have 18 years of raising your children, and another year has gone by."
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