Attrition: Seeking Sergeant Good Wrench

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January 20, 2008: Although the U.S. Marine Corps is making its recruiting numbers, it still has shortages in some key skill areas. This has been a growing problem, as too many people the marines need most, do not re-enlist. So the U.S. Marines are using the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) to obtain key support positions for units headed to a combat zone. Themarines recently sent out activation orders to 870 members of the IRR, to fill support jobs in intelligence, maintenance, communications and various other skills. These marines would return to active service later this year. They will be activated for twelve months (seven months overseas, with the rest of the time for training).

Most people in the IRR are there for four years, to finish out the eight year obligation incurred when they enlisted (usually for four years of active duty.) The IRR has existed for nearly half a century, and had never really been used until this century. The current situation appears to be exactly what the IRR was designed for, and the army and marines are using it a lot. In theory, the army and marines could make everyone who enlisted, serve eight years (instead of the usual 3-6 years.) This is unlikely, as there are limits on how many reservists the president can call up without a formal declaration of war. Moreover, not all of the 15-20 thousand marines discharged each year have skills that are needed to fill emergency needs. One thing is for certain, troops, including those recently discharged, are now much more aware of what the IRR is.

Many of those who get an IRR call-up notice are not able to go. They have health or other personal situations that make them unable to deploy. Last year, 1,800 recently discharged marines received IRR call up notices. But only about 47 percent actually went. This is not just a problem with reservists. The army recently called 1,105 former recruiters back to recruiting duty. This was part of an effort to make sure the army stays on track to makes its recruiting numbers for the fiscal year (which ends at the end of September). Only about half of those recruiters made it, even though all are still on active duty. The rest were unavailable for a number of reasons. A few females were pregnant (of the high risk variety), most of the recalled NCOs were either in higher priority jobs (senior NCO in a unit headed overseas, casualty assistance officer or any number of critical jobs). Some were on leave, and the army was unwilling to pay for un-reimbursable vacation expenses. Some were ill, or even hospitalized. Some were in the middle of critical army training programs, and some were in a combat zone already. The phrase, "drop everything" can rarely be applied literally, but it was here. Even so, you are lucky to get half the people technically available. That's the way it is with the IRR.

 


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