Marines Calling Reservists to Duty in Iraq

President Bush gives the Marine Corps the authority to call thousands of reserve service members back to duty. The immediate need is for 1,200 reservists to serve in Iraq next spring. The military is strained by dual missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President Bush has given the Marine Corps authority to call thousands of inactive service members to duty. The immediate need is for 1,200 reservists to fight in Iraq next spring.

Let's begin our coverage with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who's been following the story. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning Steve.

INSKEEP: Which Marines are affected by this?

BOWMAN: Well, we're looking at a number of Marines: communications and intelligence specialists; truck drivers, military police as well as what they call the shooters - infantry, artillery.

INSKEEP: And when we say 1,200 marines, is that the limit of this? Or could more marines be called up over time?

BOWMAN: No, more could be called up. The authorization is to be able to call up 2,500 at one time. But the immediate need is for 1,200 to fill gaps in the next rotation of troops, which will be in the spring.

INSKEEP: Could this include Marines who've been off duty for years?

BOWMAN: That's right. Most Marines serve four years on active duty then they go into this Individual Ready Reserve where they really don't train at all, they're sort of on the shelf. And the Marines have said they won't call those at the first year and the last year of their reserve duty, but those in the second and third year. So clearly a couple of these, many of these, thousands of these folks could have been off-duty for two, three years.

INSKEEP: Tom Bowman, stay with us if you would. I'd like to play a piece of tape heard a little bit earlier this morning. We reached one of the marines who thinks he's a possible candidate for being called up at some point. His name is Captain Seth Moulton.

Captain Moulton, can you just start by reminding us of your recent service?

SETH MOULTON: Sure. I was in Iraq during the invasion and through September 2003. And then I returned in July of 2004 and was deployed until October of 2005.

INSKEEP: So you were there twice. You've told us in previous interviews that you saw some combat. And then you went on into the reserves, right?

MOULTON: That's right. I got off active duty in February of this year. And then I just recently joined a reserve unit. I was in the Inactive Reserves, and I'm now in an active reserve unit.

INSKEEP: And inactive may not be the right word for you pretty soon.

MOULTON: Well, that's right. I mean there are a lot of people getting called up. I already have several friends in the Army who are getting called up and now they're doing it for the Marines as well.

INSKEEP: Do you think you are likely to go?

MOULTON: Well, if I'm in an active reserve unit, I'll go when the unit gets deployed. But the problem with the inactive reserves is that people get called at any time and don't really have any control over the situation whatsoever.

INSKEEP: What do you think about that possibility?

MOULTON: Well, you know, I mean I understand what I signed up for. And I'm very, very proud of my time in the Marines and my time in Iraq. And if called to go, I'll go. But there is certainly a sense in which the all- volunteer military is being taken advantage of here. I know this is a system that was really put in place for national emergencies, not for times when we're simply short on troops in an ongoing conflict.

INSKEEP: Is this making it difficult for you to manage your life?

MOULTON: Well, I have graduate school plans. And I've actually just since getting off active duty have already received several calls to go back to Iraq voluntarily. And I've turned them down because of my graduate school plans and because I've quite frankly spent two of my past three years in Iraq and so I feel like a little bit of a break.

INSKEEP: Although it sounds like there's a possibility you might get an offer you can't refuse.

MOULTON: Well, that's the way it's starting to look.

INSKEEP: That's Capt. Seth Moulton speaking earlier this morning.

And let's go back to Tom Bowman, our Pentagon correspondent. Tom, is that a typical reaction as far as you can tell?

BOWMAN: You know, I think it is. Some will say, listen, I signed up for this; I will go back. They'll be some reluctance on the part of others.

But he also raises a very good question. Are the active duty troops sufficient to do this job of what the administration calls a war on terror? A lot of people say that the Marine Corps and the Army should be bigger.

The Marine Commandant Mike Hagee wants to increase the size of the Marine Corps by 4,000. There's been a reluctance to do that. It's very costly for one thing. And I think you may see more discussion on that in the coming weeks and months.

INSKEEP: A few months ago, the Pentagon was talking about reducing troop levels in Iraq, well, this summer or fall. What are they saying now?

BOWMAN: Well, they had hoped to reduce it by as many as two brigades, roughly 7,000 troops. And now it's gone the other way. There's a unit from Alaska - the 1072nd Stryker Brigade combat team - that finished a year in Iraq and they've extended them for four months. So it's heading in the other direction. And a lot of this has to do with the violence in Baghdad.

INSKEEP: Is anybody saying when troop levels might be reduced now?

BOWMAN: No one's saying anything about that now. And clearly this level of troops, now roughly 133,000, which, by the way, is roughly the same as it's been for the past three years, will continue at least into the spring and next summer.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman.

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