FORT HOOD, Texas - Soldiers approaching the end of time in service are usually counting down the days until freedom.

However, that freedom might not be as free as they think. Master Sgt. Richard Jones, the command transition counselor for the 1st Cavalry Division, has come across several Soldiers who misunderstand their commitment to the U.S. Army.

All troops enlist into the military with a statutory agreement to serve the Army for eight years, regardless of whether it is in the Reserves, Individual Ready Reserves or active duty.

"Soldiers think that they can ETS (end their active duty service) with a remaining statutory service obligation, transfer into the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) and never be called again," said Jones. "Well... they are being called."

In fact, some Soldiers who just returned from deployment to Fort Hood were getting called back.

"In the last two weeks, I know of four Soldiers out of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who just returned from Iraq, signed out on terminal leave, went home, ETSed from active duty and have already received their letters saying: 'Welcome Back,'" Jones said.

He said that the Army can call back nearly anyone out of the IRR.

"While in Iraq visiting units on different forward operating bases, I liked to talk to Reserve and National Guard companies who were activated and cross attached, " Jones said. "I would go and ask them how many were in the IRR and activated... Some of the Soldiers were sitting in IRR for three or four years when and others were only in for three months."

He said that the call backs are not necessarily based on their military occupation specialty either.

"A classic example, an infantryman in the IRR could be called back to a military police unit and sent to MP school," Jones said. "Upon graduation he can be deployed with that MP unit. Also, a Soldier in the IRR goes through a bankruptcy and now does not qualify for a secret security clearance, so now he can't be an MP. He doesn't meet the prerequisites; however, he can be transferred to a transportation unit.

"The requirement to be called out of the IRR is that you must be able-bodied and hold an MOS, not a specific one, just any MOS."

Soldiers who only serve a couple years on active duty have even more to worry about.

"Another myth is Soldiers can come on active duty for a two year enlistment option, and then be done," Jones said.

There are two types of IRR now: IRR Control Group Reinforcement and Control Group Annual Training.

"Reinforcement is when you're a member of the deployment pool of the U.S. military and you have to keep (the Human Resources Command) informed of your whereabouts and changes of your status. Plus, you have to attend annual readiness musters. Control Group Annual Training is for Soldiers who serve less than three years active duty," Jones said. "After ETS, they are required to participate for traditionally two weeks but up to 30 days of annual training with a reserve unit."

According to this 26-year veteran, there is only one way to guarantee not getting called back - mobilization deferment.

"The Army Reserves have two years of stabilization and which is 'mobilization deferment,' which means if your unit gets called or receives a deployment order, you can not be ordered to deploy," Jones said. "You can volunteer to go with your unit but you cannot be ordered to go. Nor can you be cross-leveled into another unit that is deploying."

What does that mean for the Soldier' For two years, he or she can be a full-time student or maybe go into law enforcement; the academy and the probationary time frame as a state trooper without having to worry about have to leave because of deployment.

Jones also said that nearly all the National Guard states have a two year stabilization period, but all Army Reserves have two years of stabilization. But if you want those two years undisturbed, the time to act is now.

"Several states have clauses in their stabilization policy that you must sign your agreement or contract with the National Guard or Reserves prior to your ETS date from active duty," Jones said. "In other words, once you are in the IRR and then decide to transfer to the Reserves you can not get the stabilization that you want. So make the call now before you get out."

The benefits of being in Reserves are now starting to rival the ones on active duty and can make the transition into civilian life a little easier.

Reserve Soldiers now get 100 percent tuition assistance, which means they get up to $4,500 for college a year in addition to their Montgomery G.I. Bill.

They also have access to purchase medical care under TriCare Standard, which covers them 24 hours a day and seven days a week instead of just that one weekend a month. Those who have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism on active duty will have 72% of TriCare premium paid for by the government as well.

"So when you are ETSing and you lose your medical benefits... that is a great way to continue them on." Jones said. "Many civilian jobs have a probationary period before your medical benefits kick in. So that is a great way to get through that transitional phase."

Reservists also have access to post exchanges, commissaries, military flights and can get large affiliation bonuses, but one of the biggest incentives for many is the possibility of reducing their military service obligation or MSO. If a Soldier is planning on keeping the same job, they can possibly get their remaining obligation just in half.

"Since the reserve component does not have to spend money to retrain you, as an incentive to transfer to a reserve component they will cut your MSO in half," Jones said. "They will take a maximum of 24 months off but the minimum transfer time is one year. So if you were to have served five years active and you have three years remaining you can transfer to the reserve component for 18 months and then be done, ETS and the remaining 18 months goes away. That is the only way you can shorten that eight year commitment."

The incentives can very from state-to-state. Michigan just went to a three-year stabilization period, he said. So it is important to see the reserve component retention office.

"Soldiers are required by regulation to see the reserve component before clearing out of the Army," he said. "It is by appointment. If you call 287-3388/5146/ 5144 or see your unit career counselor and schedule an appointment you are in and out of there."

Soldiers don't need to wait until they receive their clearing papers to visit their retention office. Jones encourages them to investigate their opportunities up to three months prior to separating.

"This provides the Soldier the maximum opportunity to explore their options when faced with the challenges of making life-changing decisions during transition," Jones said.

Jones, who is a reservist himself, encourages Soldiers to try the Reserves or National Guard even if it is for just one year.

"If you have already done a couple tours in Iraq, and you want to be a full-time student and want to minimize your chances of going back to Iraq, join the reserve component," Jones said. "Cut your remaining obligation in half, get guaranteed stabilization, 100% tuition assistance on top of your GI bill with the medical insurance... it's a no brainer."

Page last updated Tue April 8th, 2008 at 09:17