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May 13, 2008

The "Back Door Draft"

McQ has a great post up about what is so often called the "back door draft". He clears up a lot of misconceptions:

You've read the stories about "former" soldiers who thought their obligations were complete but had been called back to active duty?

Almost to a man they claim they were sure their obligation was complete and further claim the military was unlawfully calling them back.

Eh, not really.

I had the opportunity to talk with MG Sean Byrne who commands the US Army Human Resources Command about the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). The IRR is a pool of former active duty soldiers who are serving out the rest of their contractual obligation to the military. What most people don't seem to understand, obviously to include some service members, is that the 2 to 4 years you serve on active duty are only a part of the 8 year obligation you sign up for at that time. It is in the contract signed by every enlistee.

One of the common misconceptions is that when they receive that DD 214 at the end of their active service, they are done. The belief that the receipt of that form, which is a release from active duty, ends their obligation, is false. It only separates the soldier from active duty, but does not discharge them from their reserve obligation.

In fact, when they process through the separation transfer point, each soldier signs his DD 214 which specifically states he or she is subject to recall to active duty if the need arises (block 6). The form also tells them exactly how much time they have left (block 18).

How big of a problem has this been in reality? As we all know, newspaper stories only report the plane that crashes and not the thousands of planes that land safely daily.

The present pool of IRR soldiers stands at 72,000. The number recalled to active duty at this moment is 6,500. The number of stories that you've read about? Maybe 50.

We asked MG Byrne if there isn't a better way of ensuring that soldiers are more aware of this obligation to insure that there are fewer such stories.

I think these comments provide the best answer to that question:

My active duty enlistment was supposed to end in June 1992, but I was still deployed for Operation Desert Storm and I was placed under the Air Force’s stop loss policy. I went back to my base in Italy three months later and was outprocessed in 2 days (through New Jersey if I remember correctly).

I wasn’t the only one kept in because of stop loss, and everyone seemed well aware of the rules.

Furthermore, looking at my DD Form 214, it has a big black box around 6. RESERVE OBLIG. TERM. DATE with a year, month, and day. Then it has (among other things) under 18. Remarks: "Extension of service was at the request and for the convenience of the government.—Subject to recall to active duty and/or annual screening."

I don’t know how much the form has changed during the past 16 years, but I suspect it’s pretty much the same.


In 1987, I enlisted and it was made very clear to me that I had an 8 year total obligation. In July 1990, I left active duty aware that I had 5 years of an 8 year obligation left. Considering this was before we got to reap the "peace dividend" and still had 18 divisions, I never thought I’d be called back in. In 1991 I was called back to active duty, for Desert Storm, not in my plans, but I knew it wasa possibility. I have no sympathy for any of these guys, the havd a bad case of selective listening. Most of these guys have already been told by countless squad leaders, 1SG’s and CO’s that with a war on, their skills were needed, and they were offered some very generous reenlistment incentives. They chose to play the odds, and lost. They got the job training, GI Bill, and a clearance from Uncle Sam, now they’re paying off the rest of the bill.

And best of all...

People who claim they don't know they have IRR time are like people who seem to remember what the adjustable means in adjustable rate mortgage and then scream when they can't afford payments when they could barely qualify for the house under some of the lowest interest rates in history (comparitively speaking). They are people who just throw their hands up like a 3 year old when they realize it affects them and says " I dont know"

Yep. If you fail to pay your attention bill, eventually you're going to find yourself sitting in the dark. As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!"

Posted by Cassandra at May 13, 2008 08:09 AM

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"People who claim they don't know they have IRR time are like people who seem to remember what the adjustable means in adjustable rate mortgage and then scream when they can't afford payments when they could barely qualify for the house under some of the lowest interest rates in history (comparitively speaking)."
Nicely sums it up.

IIRC even back in my day, when I received my red (or were they pink?) id card upon release from active duty, that id card had the date of my release from inactive (subject to be recalled) duty.

Sheesh... if you do not understand a contract, ANY CONTRACT, have it reviewed by others you trust BEFORE you sign it.

Posted by: bthun at May 13, 2008 11:39 AM

I signed up for a five year active enlistment to be followed by an additional three years of IRR. I had zero illusions about what my ETS date in 97' meant. I knew I was eligible to be recalled up through 2000. I honestly don't know if the folks who complain about the "backdoor draft" are malicious or merely dumb. I cannot think of any other reason to complain about it. The Army never hid that IRR requirement from me. In fact, I recall specifically asking prior to enlistment if that 8 years of IRR would start upon enlistment or after ETS. I doubt I would have failed to enlist had they told me it was after.

Posted by: MikeD at May 13, 2008 11:52 AM

"Sheesh... if you do not understand a contract, ANY CONTRACT, have it reviewed by others you trust BEFORE you sign it."

Stop that, stop that...you're making waaayyy too much sense, and how dare you make sense! Are you allowed to do that? Best not let Walkin' Boss hear you....

Posted by: DL Sly at May 13, 2008 11:54 AM

Walkin' Boss hears everything... Spooky...

Posted by: bthun_in_a_dimension_where_matter_doesn't at May 13, 2008 12:01 PM

When I enlisted in the Navy in '74, the total contractual commitment was 6 years. I did 5 years active duty, and one inactive reserve. My only requirement was to keep a complete seabag for that last inactive year in case I was called up.

Posted by: rick at May 13, 2008 01:11 PM

Block 6 contains either the specific date your reserve obligation terminates or "0000/00/00" -- which indicates you completed your obligation prior to REFRAD.

For officers, there's an addendum in Block 18: "Subject to active duty recall by the Secretary of the Army."

Anyone who grouses that they "didn't know" about either entry is playing the "I'm too stupid to read" card...

Posted by: BillT at May 13, 2008 02:01 PM

Well this certainly wasn't what I expected. When I read "back door draft" I was assuming something along the lines of the campfire scene from "Blazing Saddles". Oh well, I guess your other thing is important too.

Posted by: a former european at May 14, 2008 10:50 AM

I remember when it was, for the duration and 6 months thereafter. Hmmmmmmmm.
By the way the current obligation is 8 years, with a normal 4 year active tour followed by 4 years in the reserve at some level whether it is in a drill status or not.
In my case, I just stayed on active service for 20 years. But, it even had a catch. At 20 years, I was transfered to the Fleet Reserve. I stayed in that status until I hit 30 years. At that point, I was placed on the permanent retired list.
Sep 1973-Sep 1993 Active
July of 2003: Placed on permanent retired list.

Posted by: GM CASSEL AMH(AW) USN RET at May 14, 2008 12:14 PM