WASHINGTON – National Guard and Reserve members whose special skills would be needed in a war with Iraq might get advance notice of possible mobilization, even though President Bush has not yet decided whether to use military force, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Reservists would like some warning so they can make arrangements with employers and family members, even if the call to active duty never comes, said Thomas Hall, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. But there are concerns about such a plan, he said.
"If you elect to do that, then are you giving potential enemies and others advance information of what you're going to do? Are you also unnecessarily alerting people that they might be mobilized, ... and then it turns out they aren't called up?' Still, Hall said, "It's something we are looking at."
Currently, 51,358 reservists are on active duty, most assigned to positions in the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That number peaked in late July above 85,000. If the United States goes to war in Iraq, Pentagon officials expect to need at least 100,000 more and possibly twice that.
Although Hall said the Pentagon has no list of reserve units likely to be called up, war in Iraq would demand a wide variety of reserve specialists, including linguists, special operations forces, military police and other security forces, pilots and logisticians.
Under the partial mobilization that President Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks, as many as 1 million of the military's 1.3 million reservists could be called to active duty for as long as two years. The number who have served on active duty since then is about 130,000, according to Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon reserve affairs spokesman.
Hall said he would like to give reservists as much notice as possible so they can make necessary personal arrangements. He said they normally should have about 30 days to report for active duty, once given a mobilization order. But he did not rule out that there could be some no-notice call-ups if war comes.
"If it has to be zero (warning time), and we call them up and say, `Report tomorrow,' we will do that," he said.
"If I were a reservist, I certainly would want to know as long ahead as I could that I was perhaps going to be mobilized," said Hall, a retired Navy rear admiral whose final military post was as chief of the Naval Reserve.
Hall would not discuss the Pentagon's specific plans for a wartime call-up. "It's just premature," he said.
Another senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon is reviewing its reserve mobilization needs for Iraq with an eye to minimizing the number who would be called up to "backfill," or temporarily replace, active-duty troops deployed away from their home bases. Many reservists would be kept in the United States to provide security at military posts and possibly civilian sites.
Over the longer term, the Pentagon is looking at the possibility of moving some military missions that are mainly or exclusively in the National Guard and Reserve into the active-duty force, and vice versa. Reservists who specialize in missions like civil affairs — helping civilian authorities rebuild a society after a conflict — are increasingly in demand, thus facing the prospect of being called to active duty more than once.
Hall said he is uneasy that people who are called up repeatedly will quit, and that this strain will discourage others from joining.
"That's a major issue and concern," Hall said.
Having been in his job only five weeks, Hall said he has become aware that some communities are hurting from the loss of police officers, fire fighters and emergency service workers who are reservists and have been mobilized for home defense.
"That message is coming across loud and clear," he said.