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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Reserves chief warns of added duty

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Army Reserve soldiers in Iraq and those preparing to go — like reserve soldiers from units worldwide — could come home, turn around and have go again, even if they have been discharged, the top U.S. Army Reserve general said yesterday.

And while they are deployed, an antiquated pay system causes pay problems for 95 percent of Army Reserve soldiers, said Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve.

"We are not organized and structured right for this war," Helmly said. "We're working to fix it, but it is like trying to rebuild the engine of your car while driving on the highway at highway speeds."

Helmly, in town for his first visit to Hawai'i since becoming Army Reserve chief in 2002, told soldiers and families of the 100th Infantry Battalion that he could not guarantee the pay problems would not affect them.

He said every soldier, including those who return to their units after combat deployments, and some who get out of the Army, should prepare for deployments in the near future.

About half of the 209,000 Army Reserve soldiers worldwide have been mobilized since the 9/11 attacks, he said. Some soldiers and units have been called back to war zones time and again, and deployments have been extended.

The Army's active-duty and reserve components are working to restructure themselves so no soldier will be deployed more than 12 months in a four- or five-year period, he said. But the stress of fighting with the limited number of soldiers available in an all-volunteer force is taking its toll, and even military veterans are being recalled to duty.

"We're in the process of recalling 5,600 IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) soldiers, beginning as we speak," Helmly said. "We expect that number to increase."

IRR soldiers are enlisted men and women who have left the military but still have contractual obligations, or officers who have gotten out but have not resigned their commissions.

Helmly said there were no plans at the moment to recall veterans without contractual obligations, but the unstable geopolitical situation could lead plans to change.

"There are laws on the books that allow it," he said. "Under the current situation, I don't see it. But this is a very dangerous world we live in.

"I don't want to say Korea is preparing to go to war with us," he said, "but they are starving their people to build a massive military force. There are a variety of flashpoints around the world."

Helmly said the Army Reserve pay system — which copes well with part-time reserve duty and two-week annual training periods, but not with soldiers who have been mobilized — is scheduled to be replaced by a temporary system in 2005 and a permanent one in 2007. Until then, the problems are likely to persist.

Local Army Reserve officials said that with one of the Reserve pay centers in Honolulu, Hawai'i reservists might suffer fewer of the problems that usually involve danger pay, separation pay and other allowances.

"We're tracking it very closely," said Brig. Gen. John Y.H. Ma.

Helmly spoke yesterday to members of the 100th Battalion, 442 Infantry, who are preparing to deploy to Iraq. Hawai'i-based Army Reserve soldiers in the 411th Engineer Battalion are serving near Baghdad.

The 100th Battalion soldiers also expressed concern about whether they could wear their unit patch while in Iraq. The Army Reservists are proud of the patch, which identifies them as historical descendants of World War II's 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated combat unit of its size in Army history.

Helmly said they could wear it.

"Unless someone disagrees with me," he said. "It's done."

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.