The U.S. Marine Corps will start ordering what could be thousands of inactive service members to return to duty in the coming months to counter a steady decline in the number of such troops who volunteer, the service said on Tuesday.
Col. Guy Stratton, head of the Marine Corps’ manpower mobilization plans, said the service is short some 1,200 volunteers over the next 18 months to fill roles in the war on terrorism. The total shortfall fluctuates regularly, he said.
Stratton said President George W. Bush authorized the Marine Corps to issue involuntary recall orders to members of the Individual Ready Reserve, part of the non-active force. It will be the Marine Corps’ first involuntary recall since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The authorization limits the number of Marines who can be activated involuntarily to no more 2,500 at any one time, out of a pool of about 35,000, Stratton said. The length of each activated service member’s duty is capped at 24 months but will likely last 12 to 18 months.
Under a general contract, a Marine serves four years on active duty and four in reserve. While on reserve, Marines may volunteer to return to active duty to fill needed roles.
But the number of Marines volunteering outside their active-duty service requirement has been steadily declining for two years, according to Stratton, who said could not offer an explanation.
The Marine Corps’ authority to involuntarily recall Marines for jobs in the “Global War on Terror” — a war whose parameters remain largely undefined — has no expiration date.
“The authority is until GWOT is over with,” Stratton said. “Until we’re told to do otherwise, we’ll use it.”
The Marine Corps’ move comes almost five years after the September 11 attacks that led the United States to declare a war on global terrorism and more than three years after the Iraq war began.
Many Marines have performed three tours of duty in Iraq since March 2003. While the U.S. Army has provided most of the ground forces fighting an insurgency there, the Marines have carried a heavy load and been deployed in one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq, Anbar province.
Beyond Iraq, which the Bush administration considers part of the war on terrorism, the broader war is expected to last many years, defense officials regularly say.
The Marines and Army have been meeting monthly recruiting goals. But some analysts have questioned the military’s ability to sustain long-term operations with its all-volunteer force.
Involuntary recalls and other steps taken to stop the loss of personnel have been criticized by some as a back-door conscription and a threat to the volunteer nature of the force.
“What’s really worrisome about involuntary recalls is they put even more of the burden on the handful of people who voluntarily join the military, and thus undermine the long-term viability of the whole volunteer force,” said Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson.
“In some ways this is worse than a back-door draft because it penalizes the handful of people who had the inclination and the courage to volunteer in the first place,” he said.
Stratton, however, said the Marines’ involuntary recall was not a back-door draft and that Marines on nonactive status should always expect that they may be called when needed.
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