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Army Reserve chief raises concern about 'broken force'

Urges wider call-up to meet commitments

Lt. Gen. James Helmly says the Army Reserve is no longer able to meet its commitments in Iraq.
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Army Reserve

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon's reliance on volunteers from the Army Reserve for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan risks creating a "broken force," the reserve force's commander warned his superiors in a December memo, and he urged a wider call-up of reservists to active duty.

In his memo, Lt. Gen. James Helmly stated that the Army Reserve is no longer able to meet its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor can it "reset and regenerate" units for future missions.

Reserve commanders spend too much time trying to accommodate troops who don't want to serve, leaving the force unable to meet its mission requirements, Helmly concluded -- the result of policies that were designed for peacetime, "as opposed to a mobilized force in wartime."

"While some have expressed surprise and indignation at being mobilized for this war, most have not," Helmly wrote in a December 20 memorandum to Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff. "They have understood it to be inherent in their volunteer contract for service."

In addition, offering a $1,000 monthly bonus to volunteers for active duty risks creating a "mercenary" culture in its ranks, he wrote.

About a fifth of the Army's 200,000 reservists are currently on active duty. About 30,000 of those are in Iraq, where the service relies heavily on reservists for support, military police and civil affairs specialists.

"Contrary to a perceived intention of caring for troops, the insistence on even more restrictive policies and practices governing mobilization, manpower management and the insistence on incentivizing 'volunteers' through the use of money threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse," he wrote.

Helmly called the memo "a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern" about the status of his force. It was not his first warning: In November, he told the House Armed Services Committee that the Army Reserve is falling behind its recruiting goals for the year.

In December, the Army Reserve announced it would boost enlistment bonuses to $10,000 for first-time recruits and to $15,000 for veterans who sign up for six years. The National Guard -- also heavily mobilized for the war in Iraq -- also raised its recruiting bonuses after seeing a decline in recruiting since October.

Helmly recommended extending the mandatory retirement dates for reserve officers, rather than having to recall and retrain retired officers; and making more use of retirees who have volunteered to return to duty. Current policies have "hamstrung" the reserve as it tries to manage its force, he wrote.

CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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