Reserve Soldiers Face Call Ups in Coming

W By Tom Bowman

wASHINGTON – Members of Congress expect thousands of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers to be called up in the coming weeks to relieve Air Force reservists who are going into their second year of security duty at air bases in the United States and Europe, although the Pentagon said no final decision has been made.

Pentagon and congressional officials said 8,000 to 10,000 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers will be activated in January to handle security at 163 U.S. Air Force installations around the United States and about a dozen in Europe.

“It’s going to happen,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, saying about 100 Missourians are expected to be called. “We’re supposed to receive specific notification this week.”

Officials with the Maryland National Guard said they have received no word from the Pentagon that any of their units would be mobilized for the security detail.

Army Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon spokesman, said no decision has been made and a new reserve call-up is only one of the options being considered. Hiring contract labor is another option, he said, to replace Air Force reservists who have been providing security at Air Force bases since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks.

“They’re going into their second year,” said Stoneking. “We want to do what we can to reduce that burden.”

Since the Army’s Guard and Reserve force is nearly twice the size of Air Force contingent – 1.2 million compared to 603,000 – it was determined that the Army could more readily provide the forces, officials said.

Defense analysts say that significant Guard and Reserve call-ups will be the surest sign that war with Iraq is imminent, but Stoneking and other Pentagon officials dismissed any connection between the new mobilization and the possibility of war with Iraq. The replacements would not amount to a beefing up of security at those air bases, they said.

But another Pentagon official said the anticipated activation of 10,000 Guard and Reserve troops is the first of several large-scale call-ups in preparation for a possible war. And the total mobilization figure of reservists could easily top 100,000 citizen soldiers.

Army officials expect top-level approval soon for the call-up in the coming weeks of an additional 34,000 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in three installments, said the official.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said the official. “We’re doing this an increment at a time.”

Reservists are generally given 30 days notice before being mobilized for active duty, Thomas F. Hall, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, told reporters recently.

Hall declined to discuss a possible mobilization for Iraq and said his main focus now is replacing those reservists who are going into their second year on active duty. “And then, at the same time, preparing for any contingencies that we’re called upon – Iraq or anywhere else,” he said.

There are some estimates that about 250,000 troops would be needed to invade Iraq, less than half the number employed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Currently, there are about 51,000 Guard and Reserve units from all the services on active duty.

But some in the Army are worried that the service is being stretched too thin with security and other duties since the Sept. 11 attacks. “We don’t have enough soldiers for our commitments,” said one Army officer.