Marine Recall Prompts Questions over Iraq Stress

Gary Solis, retired lieutenant colonel for the Marine Corps, talks about the Pentagon's announcement that Marines will be involuntarily called out of reserve and sent to Iraq.

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Today, the United States Marine Corps. They've long prided themselves on being the few, the proud, always faithful. Yesterday, the Marine Corp announced it would call up currently inactive reserve Marines to return to active duty. The involuntary recall raises questions about the stresses of the Iraq war on the Marines and on their willingness to serve multiple combat tours.

Today, we'd like to hear from those of you in the audience who served in the Marine Corps. What's your reaction to the recall? How would your life be affected if you were ordered back to duty? How does this change your view of the volunteer service? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Gary Solis is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. He joins us now from his home in Virginia. Nice to have you on the program today.

Lieutenant Colonel GARY SOLIS (Retired, Marine Corps): Hi. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: The president authorized the Marines to recall up to 2,500 from the individual ready reserve. What does that mean for Marines?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Well, if you're called up it means the disruption of your life. You know, you come on active duty for a certain period, but you also sign up for a contractual period if you're an enlisted Marine. That's usually six years. So you do a certain period on active duty, perhaps two years. And then you'll be in the reserves for the remaining four.

So it's not as if it's - well, every reservist knows that it's a possibility. It's just that it's not usual, and people have gone back to going to school, running their businesses, trying to get ahead in their job, and now this is all going to have to be set aside.

CONAN: So even more disruptive for a lot of people than members of the regular reserves?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Yes, very much so. Because it's not exactly out of the blue, but it is unexpected. Although, we should remember that this has been done before. We've had some IRR call ups at the beginning of the war. The Army's had several. And these are not unique and they are part of the contractual obligation. But still…

CONAN: Yeah. Are certain specialties being recalled?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Yes. It's people in - for example, military police, infantrymen of course, engineers, combat engineers, intel people - intelligence people. So yeah, it's people in critical MOS's - military occupational specialties - who are being called back.

CONAN: What are you hearing from your fellow Marines about this recall?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Well, I don't know too many Marines, but the - too many reserve Marines, but those that are in the IRR - the ready reserve - are not happy about it. I know one gent who has a friend who has a flower shop, and it almost went over when he was on active duty, but his wife managed to run it. And now he knows that he's just going to have to give it up if he's called. So you have situations where Marines' lives are going to be severely disrupted - business plans, college plans are just going to have to be put on hold for an indefinite period.

Well, it's not an indefinite period. It's probably a year to a year and a half, but that's a considerable time.

CONAN: Sure. We want to get listeners on the line on this. 800-989-8255, e-mail talk@npr.org. Eric(ph) is calling us from Fort Myers in Florida.

ERIC (Caller): Hello, how are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

ERIC: Well, my name is Eric Jacobs, like you said. I am a former Marine. I've been out of the service for about a year now, and I am slightly concerned about this recall - not to say that I wouldn't go back in a second or anything like that. I certainly feel a strong duty toward my country, but as far as plans go in my life and everything, certainly that puts things on hold. I'm married. My wife and I - she is a music educator.

I'm a musician and an educator as well. I was actually in a Marine field band. They don't really talk to you about exactly what the procedure is as far as recalls go. I'm guessing that from what I've read, they're going to be recalling communications, military police, and I think one more MOS that I forgot. And so I would guess that of those 2,500, they would choose people from that MOS first. But I'm certain that if the situation became such, they would call up people of other MOS's, as well.

CONAN: And I think, Gary Solis, that's sort of an underlying concern of a lot of people. If Marines are being recalled involuntarily, what does that say about recruitment? What does that say about their ability to keep this level of commitment that they've been asked to do in Iraq?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Right. It's awfully tough. You know, weapons wear out, machinery wears out, and so do soldiers, and so do Marines. You can only send a Marine, you can only send a soldier over there so many times. We've got some Marines who have been over there a fourth and fifth time, and there comes a point where the family says you know, we just can't handle this anymore. And so they beat feet. And so recruiting is going to get tougher, and it's going to come to the Army as well. You can't keep up this kind of operational tempo without affecting recruiting and retention.

CONAN: Eric, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

ERIC: Oh, thank you very much.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Eric might want to check his enlistment contract to see how long he's still got in the IRR.

CONAN: Yes, he might. A lot of people may be doing that the last 24 hours or so. Let's hear from Ben. Ben's calling us from Oregon City.

BEN (Caller): Thank you. Thank you for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

BEN: First I want to say I completely agree with the lieutenant colonel. I was active duty for four years, and I served two tours. One was not even two months after I was married, and the next was six weeks after I got home. So I was in and out repeatedly. I've been out and in the IRR for nearly two years, and this recall extremely affects me because of my MOS.

But what I want to say is I completely agree with the lieutenant colonel that I understand that this is my job. This is what I signed up for. If they call me back, I am on the next plane out there and I will do my job, do my time, and get home and back to my family.

CONAN: It's your job, it's your obligation, but after a while does it start to chafe a little?

BEN: It does. My wife doesn't want me to go at all. She says you've been there twice already. I'm afraid if you go back a third time you won't be coming home. I have a two-year-old son and one we just found out that's on the way. And as much as I don't want to leave my family, it's part of the reason why I signed up when I did. It's to help my country and to fight for what I believe in.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Ben, thanks very much for the call and good luck.

BEN: Thanks for taking me.

Lt. Col. SOLIS: You know, Neal, I think that Ben's viewpoint is representative of many in the Marine Corps. They have an extremely high sense of duty. But as you suggest, there comes a tipping point where sense of duty and obligations to family begin to meet. And sometimes that meeting point is not an easy point to handle.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The role of the Marines has changed many times over the years. In recent years, though, they've been regarded as, you know, light assault troops who go in first, grab whatever needs to be taken, and then give way to more heavily armed forces in the Army. As you look at the way they're being used in Iraq, is the Marine Corps being changed?

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Definitely so. We had the same problem, of course, in Vietnam. We were supposed to be expeditionary, but we stayed there for years. And we are shifting in the Marine Corps from an amphibious assault unit, if you will, to a long-term combatant unit. And we weren't built for that, and our equipment isn't assigned for that.

That is to say, our equipment isn't designed to go for the long haul. So we have all kinds of artillery tubes - for example, tank main gun tubes, tanks themselves - all of these things are wearing out, and the Marine Corps is going to - it's going to cost billions and billions of dollars over a period of years to re-equip the Marine Corps, just as it will for the Army. But we feel it particularly in the Marine Corps because we're a smaller outfit, and these things have a greater impact on us.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in on the line, and this is Karen. Karen's calling us from Kentucky.

KAREN (Caller): Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

KAREN: I just got out of the military after 17 years of service, and I've had many people ask me why. You could've done three years standing on your head. The problem is that the past five years I felt I've been standing on my head, and I couldn't stand on it for very much longer. The operations tempo has gotten to the point for me, from having left the Army, that you just - I really don't think that we can go on too much longer. And if they don't go on, rather unfortunately, probably to some sort of involuntary service, you're going to see more and more and more of these recalls going on because they can't hold on to people. They cannot hold on to people. I, you know, three and four and five tours over. I was in the medical field, and just like the guys who are fighting house to house and door to door, the nurses and the doctors and the technicians and the laboratory people, we get beaten up pretty bad, too.

CONAN: Yeah. And when you talk about retiring after 17 years and three more, an enormous difference if you retire after 20 years.

KAREN: Right. If you get out after 20 years of service, you receive -supposedly, and this is the other gripe - supposedly you receive medical care for your lifetime. That's really not true, not anymore. And you receive a stipend, a monthly pension, which is also kind of being argued as to whether or not they're going to continue that benefit with people who stay in the military for 20 years.

CONAN: Gary Solis…

KAREN: But even with those benefits, I couldn't justify doing that to my family anymore.

CONAN: Yeah, and Gary Solis, Karen was in the Army, but the same kinds of problems, I think, are going to be affecting the Marine Corps.

Lt. Col. SOLIS: Exactly the same kind of problems, and as Karen noted, 17 years when you get out, you just get out. You don't retire. You get nothing, and that's a heck of thing to give up 17 years with nothing to show for it financially speaking. And I just recently retired from being an instructor at West Point, and I know that the Army is having a problem with junior officers getting out. They're going to Iraq or Afghanistan immediately upon commissioning in their OBC - their Officer Basic School - and then being sent back again, and so we are already seeing signs of strain in the Army as well as in the Marine Corps.

CONAN: Karen, thanks for the call. Good luck to you.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: And Gary Solis, we wanted to thank you for your time today as well. Appreciate it.

Lt. Col. SOLIS: My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Gary Solis is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of Marines and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. He joined us today from his home in Virginia. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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