WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps announced plans last week for involuntary call-ups of Marine reservists to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's some background:
Question: Who's getting called up?
Answer: Those who stand to be summoned are Marines who recently have completed four years of active duty and are serving the remaining years of their eight-year service commitment in a reserve program known as the "individual ready reserve."
Q: Do all Marines go from active duty to the individual ready reserve?
A: No. Some join reserve units that have monthly drills. Some remain attached as reservists to active-duty units. About 59,000 are in the individual ready reserve. They are not attached to reserve or active-duty units but are available as individuals to volunteer or be called up for duty in units that have vacancies.
Q: How many will be called up?
A: The Marines estimate there are 1,200 jobs that may need to be filled on an involuntary basis. Call-up guidelines allow commanders to summon up to 2,500 Marines and to subsequently call up additional groups of 2,500.
Q: Do some volunteer for this duty?
A: Yes. The Marines regularly post newly created jobs or jobs that have become vacant because of casualties or discharges and encourage members of the individual ready reserve to volunteer. They are paid for the duty.
Q: Why not fill all the openings with volunteers?
A: The Marine Corps would prefer to do that. But the number of volunteers has been declining, and the commitment of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has remained constant. So commanders foresee a time when they have openings near the front lines and no Marines available to fill them.
Q: The Pentagon has said it's meeting its recruiting goals. So how can there be a shortage of Marines?
A: The Marines have been meeting their recruiting goals (the Army missed its goal last year; the National Guard and Army and Navy reserves are struggling this year).
However, when a unit is serving in combat and Marines are killed or wounded, commanders can't fill those jobs by simply moving Marines from other units, because that would create new vacancies. Instead, they call for help from reserves.
Up until now, that call has been answered by volunteers.
Q: Weren't the number of troops in Iraq supposed to go down this year?
A: Yes. Since early 2005, top commanders have predicted that "substantial reductions" in the numbers of U.S. forces would occur in 2006. President Bush expressed a similar hope in his State of the Union speech in January. But persisting violence has prevented commanders from going ahead with withdrawals.
Q: How many troops do we have over there?
A: As of last week, there were 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, including about 22,000 Marines.
Q: Bush administration officials talk about the all-volunteer force. Are the troops in Iraq all volunteers?
A: They all voluntarily joined the military. But as in the case of the Marines in the individual ready reserve, many had little or no choice about going to Iraq.
Q: How many others were given no choice?
A: It's difficult to say for sure. The Army tapped its individual ready reserve in 2004, mobilizing about 5,000 inactive soldiers. About 2,200 Army ready reservists continue to serve, about 1,850 of them involuntarily.
In addition, many military units have been held in Iraq beyond their scheduled tours. While the Pentagon could not provide exact current numbers of troops affected by such extensions, there were more than 13,000 in Iraq at the end of last year.
Viewed another way, however, when the Pentagon mobilizes and deploys an entire military unit, its members do not necessarily have a choice to go or stay, either. The difference is that some are sent to Iraq, or kept there, through variations on normal deployments.
Q: Is this like a military draft?
A: Some call it a "backdoor draft." But the United States abolished compulsory military service in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer military based on recruiting.
Still, by adapting the rules to send people to Iraq who didn't expect to go, or to keep people there longer than they expected, commanders are stirring up some hard feelings among service members and their families.
Q: We have 138,000 troops in Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says there are 2 million available. So why does the military seem to be under strain?
A: The 2 million includes all the active-duty services, reserves and National Guard. But the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has fallen heavily on the Army, which has about 500,000 members worldwide, and the Marines, with 179,000.
Nearly eight out of every 10 members of the Army and Marines have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them more than once. Army rules tend to limit combat deployments to a year; Marines send their members to fight for seven months. With the war in its fourth year, nearly a third have been deployed more than once.
When Army recruiting numbers plummeted last year, commanders tweaked standards and recruitment procedures. Now, numbers are beginning to look better, though congressional investigators have expressed concern about some recruiting tactics.