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U.S. military active duty retirees -- Valuable assets

By George S. Kulas
web posted October 9, 2006

In his speech to a joint session of congress on April 19, 1951 General Douglas MacArthur echoed that unforgettable refrain from an old barracks ballad, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away". Today with the manpower shortages the U.S. military is facing because of extended deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq it could use some "old soldiers".

Many service members are on their third tours of duty to the war zones. Recently an Army unit returned home to the states after completing its yearlong deployment to Iraq. To the horror of some of its members and their loved ones the unit was immediately ordered to do an about face and go back to Iraq because it was determined that they were needed for an additional 90 days. Tragically, some of these extended soldiers have since been killed in action. As a result of a "stop loss" program thousands of service members have been involuntarily extended in the "all volunteer" force beyond their discharge dates. Many who have served over twenty years have had their requests to retire denied.

With the military stretched so thin some in Congress are talking about renewing a draft of non-volunteers. Ironically, Congress continues to ignore the fact that there is a large pool of qualified patriotic volunteers who could give the military a much-needed boost.

These volunteers are highly skilled, trained, motivated and proven service members who could contribute substantially to the military's combat readiness as members of the ready reserves. They could add much needed manpower and expertise to reserve units that are severely understaffed and overly taxed with missions. These service members, U.S. military active duty retirees, spent 20 or more years full-time in the active Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. They knew their jobs well. Many are combat veterans and most of them were in leadership positions training junior service members.

There are currently over 1.5 million active duty military retirees (half under age 60). This is more than the entire active duty force today. Most active duty military retirees are in their early forties upon retirement.
Ready reserve military personnel attend paid weekend drills and at least two weeks of active duty for training each year. They are the most likely to be called to active duty during a war or national emergency. Members who remain qualified can serve until they are 60 years old.

Unfortunately, under current law, Title 10 of the U.S. Code, active duty military retirees are not allowed to join a ready reserve unit unless the Secretary of the service "makes a special finding that the member's services in the ready reserve are indispensable." Additionally, according to Title 10 of the U.S. Code, a service member cannot receive both retired pay and reserve pay concurrently. Should a retiree be allowed to participate in the ready reserve under the provisions of the statute, he or she will either have to decline reserve pay or forfeit retired pay for the number of days duty is performed.

The law which says military retirees cannot serve in ready reserve units needs to be changed to allow those volunteers who are qualified the opportunity to join units where the military stipulates they are needed. If Congress is serious about having the best quality military with limited manpower they should finally act to give the military flexibility in tapping available personnel resources instead of having to continue extending service members who have already so bravely performed their duty. Let some old soldiers, who are not yet ready to "just fade away", give some young ones a break. ESR

George S. Kulas served as a Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army before he retired.


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