Inactive reserves may face ‘large-scale’ changes, including having to attend training

U.S. Marines with the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) attend an IRR Muster at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C., Jan. 12, 2013. The IRR Muster is held annually to update the reservists' information and ensure that they understand their options as a Marine Reservist. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David McKenzie/Released)

The IRR is still in the Stone Age, but that may soon change, according to the Reserve Forces Policy Board.

The military is ripping a page from the private sector in hopes of providing better personnel management for the forces. In a rapidly changing digital world – it seems more and more people rely  on social media to maintain personal and business connections.

The military wants to take advantage of this by staying in better contact with veterans through social media as part of a strategy to update and improve the Individual Ready Reserve system.

Critics have said during times of mobilization that the Pentagon was using the IRR as a “back-door draft” that disrupted the lives of veterans trying to assimilate into the civilian world and workforce.

But with new incentives and a possible revamping of the entire system, veterans may not mind at all. The new IRR might seek to tap inactive veterans for a “wider range of potentially short-term missions.” Officials say this would be similar to the private sector’s use of part-time consultants.

In most cases, the military is able to fill any gaps in its manpower needs through the Selected Reserve, where part-time troops are assigned to units, drill regularly and are often dubbed “weekend warriors.”

But the hope is that a modernized IRR, would no longer be a “force of last resort” but instead would provide temporary manpower.

According to Military Times, the push comes at a time when “the military is shrinking, defense budgets remain tight and the Pentagon is looking for ways to modernize the all-volunteer force and tap new sources of talent.”

Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board,(RFPB)  sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter asking for “large-scale changes” to the IRR that may include: improving official tracking of individual IRR troops and their skills; and attaching IRR troops to traditional reserve units.

Another change would give IRR troops access to some level of Tricare health coverage and retirement benefits, like their Select Service counterparts.

Today’s IRR troops do not receive a Common Access Card, because they have access to very little military benefits. The reserve board suggests the Pentagon should give them a version of the CAC to “expedite integration” if necessary.

Greater use of the IRR is likely to get a mixed reaction, says the executive director of the Reserve Officers Association (ROA).

“There are some people who want to get back into the mix, but there are a lot of people who want to do other things with their lives. They want to start a family, they want to form a career as a manager. If they start going on deployments periodically, that could be a challenge for them,” Jeffrey Phillips said.

But Punaro says this could also help recently separated troops find better civilian jobs.  “Let’s say you’re in the Army IRR and you’re getting a bachelor’s degree with your GI Bill. Maybe they could say ‘Here’s an opportunity … maybe we could use you at Fort Gordon (Georgia) and you could make a lot more money than you would with any other summer job.”

The Pentagon has been debating the proper role of its reserve force, for years. One model used is the  “strategic” reserve which remains on “stand- by” for a World War III-style crisis. The other, an “operational” reserve, mobilizes and deploys regularly — as it did during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

ROA officials say the new discussion over the future of the IRR,  highlights a possible new model, or “third way” that is not ‘strategic’ or ‘operational’, but perhaps more of a “part-time active” force.

The RFPB’s vision would require both high-level policy changes and approval from Congress.

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