Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Party of 5,000, your table is ready in Fallujah, Beirut, or Wherever (Individual Ready Reserve)


There’ve been a handful of stories about the recent Marine call up of  thousands of Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) for active deployment.  The current number of US Troops in Iraq appears to be about 138,000 and as more than a few have noticed the number seems to go up not down as we continue to turn the corner there.  I did a bit of research and learned that prior to 2004, IRR was generally referred to as “Inactive Reserve”.  Traditionally, all military commitments are for eight years, but one completes “active” status at the end of four years.  I imagine recruiters used to sell contractees on the notion that the last two years were completely “inactive”.   

During the IRR period, you were not assigned to any unit, you don’t get paid, and the only requirement appeared to be that you needed to tell the government where and how to find you.  Back in 2004, several thousand Inactive Reserve got a surprise when they were suddenly reactivated. (apparently, many tried not to show up and a significant number were no longer fit for service) This meant that they got a letter that told them to stop driving the taxi cab, going to school, or staying home with the kids and report for duty to a newly-assigned unit (fwiw military police units are a popular choice).  In the same year, the military showed its empathy for those called back into active service by dropping the “Inactive” part from the acronym and substituting “Individual”.  Those lucky few thus went from being inactive “couch potatoes” to being “individualists” again in that hotbed of individualism, the armed services.  

One of my first thoughts about this whole eight year thing is that our President is supposed to spend eight years in office and is currently headed into his last two.  Am I the only one who thinks that IRR might be a good idea?  We could let him go back to clearing his mountain bike and riding brush in Crawford and say “Hey, thanks for your service, we’ll just call you if we really need you, wink wink.”

I assume that he’s investigated this already though since he has extensive personal experience in working out the limits of an obligation for military service, particularly when it comes to the “inactive” part.  

My second thought is that words like “Inactive” and “Reserves” evoke the sports world.  (Since sportswriters constantly use war metaphors, I like to use sports metaphors when talking about war)  When a teams starts playing its “reserves” extensively, one of two things has happened.  The game is out of reach and the outcome no longer can be much affected by who happens to be on the field or your team is in big trouble.  The reserve quarterback comes in because the starter got a concussion from being hit on the blitz.  You get put on the active roster when the general manager either has a bunch of injuries or they just don’t want to spend the money any longer for real major leaguers.  The reserves usually try just as hard and often they are very talented, but they’re not active for a reason.  They’re too young, too old, simply worn out, injured, etc.  If a coach has to use reserves extensively, it’s a favored excuse for losing.

The other place you hear about “reserves” is in the finance world.  A family shouldn’t dip into its reserves or savings to say buy a new boat, buy recreational  drugs, or or buy lottery tickets to stabilize the Middle East.  A business doesn’t use its reserve funds unless there’s a real emergency unless it wants to generate some very serious deficits very fast.  

The common term for the use of what were once “inactive” reserves has been “backdoor draft”.  Many believe that resistance to Vietnam came from the fact that middle-class children were suddenly being drafted to serve their country.  As a result, more and more Americans began asking “Uh, why are we doing this exactly?”

The all volunteer army, even if they don’t go in knowing that eight years really was eight years or more, has the advantage of saying “You exercised your free will in signing up for this and no one’s making you do it.”    

We live in a country that’s big on the notion of individual free will.  I’m not sure what it means that there may not be enough people who want to exercise their free will to sign up for this war any longer now that they know more about the fine print.

I think the more sensible way to characterize the use of what were once our “inactive” reserves is that someone’s treating the war as a serious “emergency”,(in fact, IRR could only be activated with a declaration of national emergency by congress, something that happened post 9/11) even though the vast majority of Americans aren’t acting at all like we’re in the midst of an emergency.  I, for instance, don’t go to bed thinking about ways to help the war effort or make major purchases with our national emergency in mind.  I suppose that if terrorists did make another major statement on U.S. soil or if there were another Katrina, an earthquake, or other disaster that might require the armed forces at home, I’ll have the comfort of knowing that our emergency forces are half way across the world protecting us from weapons of mass destruction in the only country in the Middle East that didn’t seem to have an active program to create them.  

Is this mom and dad spending the money they were saving for the kids’ college educations on crack cocaine or is it mom and dad fending off some serious problem and not wanting to worry the kids more than necessary?  Personally, I tend to think of it as the former, but let’s assume it’s the latter.  I have to ask, are they spending all our human resource and financial savings in a way that’s actually effective?  When do you tell the kids that the family’s in big trouble?  What happens when you share the truth with them about how big that danger really was?  

How about a combination of the two?  Imagine that mom or dad simply has a bad gambling habit and it’s gotten so bad they’ve tapped into our savings without discussing it with us.  It’s not really a family emergency, they don’t want to level with the kids because to do so would be to lose any respect or authority for how they manage the family say come November.  In the meantime, they dip into reserve savings telling us that it’s for concerns that no one dares question and just go about your lives as if one shouldn’t be all concerned that we have no savings anymore. Fortunately we don't have to worry in this country about individual illness or serious accident, because all families in America have health insurance regardless of mom and dad's personal bad habits.  

Even if it didn’t start as an emergency, it’s definitely one now. We're either in big trouble or we're getting in bigger trouble because mom and dad are idiots.  So why are we being encouraged to sleep through it? Isn't that something that a mom or dad with a gambling habit might encourage as opposed to how an actually vigilant mom and dad might behave?

More Chancelucky's stories of Karl Rove



At 8/23/2006 02:52:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Great post. It all made sense and I loved your breakdown on the words/terms and the analogies.

I don't understand at all how the world works anymore except to say that there's a lot of overwhelming greed and stupidity at play.

At 8/23/2006 03:25:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the kind comment. It sounds how like you understand how the world works perfectly well :}.

One of the odd things I've learned online is that non-Americans know more about American foreign policy than average Americans do and tend to be more senisble about it.

They're also often better at hockey than we are.

At 8/24/2006 01:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone signing up for the military now is de facto, de indubitably insane -- so do we really want armed insane people running around?

At 8/24/2006 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I was thinking about this, if you sign up when you're 22, you now quite possibly get out of active duty at age 30.
That's a big chunk of one's life. Of course, that's only if the official state of emergency continues for eight more years.

No one's acting like it won't.

At 8/24/2006 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Thanks for the kind assumption that I'm any good at hockey. :-)


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