The U.S. Army is planning to call up close to 6,000 reservists, who will likely be shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan later this year. Many of the troops will be drawn from the Individual Ready Reserve, which was last tapped en masse more than a decade ago during the first Gulf War. What is the Individual Ready Reserve, exactly, and why is it so seldom used?
The IRR is comprised of former full-time soldiers who still have time remaining on their military commitments. When Army hopefuls sign their enlistment contracts, they are agreeing to an eight-year stint in the service. After four years or so, soldiers who do not wish to become lifers are given discharges and return to the civilian world. But they're still on the hook as IRR reservists and are supposed to keep the Army apprised of their whereabouts.
Unlike members of the Selected Reserve, who drill consistently with an organized unit, soldiers in the IRR aren't required to attend training, nor are they attached to a specific unit. In fact, many IRRists aren't even aware that they're in the reserves at all. But whenever the president sees fit, these troops have to answer the bell. Title 10 of the United States Code gives the president the authority to muster 200,000 reservists whenever "it is necessary to augment the active forces." Of that 200,000, who must serve for a period of 270 days, no more than 30,000 can be members of the IRR.
In addition, in times of grave national emergency, the president can authorize a partial mobilization of the reserves, which would involve up to 1,000,000 troops for a 24-month stretch. A full mobilization, which can occur only if Congress has declared war or during a national emergency, would call up all reserves and military retirees younger than 60 for the duration of the crisis.
One problem the Army has encountered with the IRR is the tendency of ex-soldiers to change addresses without notification. Of the 118,000 soldiers in the Army's individual reserve—each branch has its own IRR—approximately 40,000 can't currently be located. The Pentagon has reportedly toyed with the idea of examining IRS records to track down the lost reservists, to the chagrin of privacy advocates.