WASHINGTON – The Army Reserve (search), whose part-time soldiers serve in combat and support roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, is so hampered by misguided Army policies and practices that it is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," the Reserve's most senior general says.
Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly (search), chief of the Army Reserve, wrote in an internal memorandum to the Army's top uniformed officer that the Reserve has reached the point of being unable to fulfill its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and to regenerate its forces for future missions.
The Army Reserve has about 200,000 soldiers, nearly 52,000 of them on active duty for the war on terrorism, mainly in Iraq. They provide combat support, medical care, transportation, legal services and other support. About 50 have died so far in the Iraq war.
Helmly's Dec. 20 memo is addressed to Gen. Peter Schoomaker (search), the Army chief of staff, and was first reported in Wednesday's editions of the Baltimore Sun, whose Web site has a link to the eight-page document. Two officials who saw the original memo confirmed its contents to The Associated Press.
"The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of the Army Reserve's inability under current policies, procedures and practices ... to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom," Helmly wrote, using the military's names for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements," including those in classified contingency plans for other potential wars or national emergencies, "and is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," Helmly wrote.
The Army Reserve's ability to regenerate its recently deployed forces is "eroding daily," he added, in part because Reserve troops who finish tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are required to leave substantial amounts of their equipment for other forces and for contractors.
Helmly also referred to a practice, not previously disclosed, of requiring each Reserve soldier who receives a mobilization order with less than 30 days notice to sign a "volunteer statement." From his brief description of the practice it appears that this is done to reduce the number of reported cases of short-notice, involuntary mobilizations.
He also criticized the practice of offering Reserve soldiers an extra $1,000 a month if they volunteer to be mobilized a second time. This confuses "volunteers" with "mercenaries," he said.
Helmly's blunt description of these problems is the sort of internal attack that rarely becomes public, although some private defense analysts and members of Congress have openly questioned whether the strains on the Army caused by the Iraq war would eventually threaten the all-volunteer force.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Wednesday he was disturbed by the concerns raised in Helmly's memo.
"By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden on the Army Reserve and created this crisis," Reed said.
Al Schilf, a spokesman for Helmly, said the three-star general was not available Wednesday to discuss the issues raised in his memo. The Sun quoted Helmly as saying in an interview Tuesday that he stands by his memo and that it contains his best professional assessment.
Col. Joe Curtin, a spokesman at Army headquarters in the Pentagon, said the Army has a group of experts studying a wide range of problems facing not only the Army Reserve but also the Army National Guard.
"These issues are largely being addressed now," Curtin said. "General Helmly's concerns are of a serious nature, and the Army realizes it has to work very hard and diligently to resolve them, and our intent is to resolve those issues."
Since President Bush launched a global war on terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about 65,000 Army Reserve soldiers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures.
Among Helmly's other complaints:
— The Army is relying too heavily on volunteers to mobilize for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most likely to volunteer are "those who often enjoy lesser responsible positions in civilian life," he said.
— The Army has failed to use its legal authority to call to active duty those members of the Reserve who have violated their service contract, by missing training or other actions. Helmly said he asked for but was not given the authority to discharge those Reserve members, who number 16,400.