“If you get recalled my best advice is to follow your heart. Personally, I would not report.”
–Career military veteran and former IRR trainer (anonymous)
The Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), sometimes called the Inactive Ready Reserve, is composed of former military personnel who still have time remaining on their enlistment agreements but have returned to civilian life. They are eligible to be called up in "states of emergency."
In support of President Obama's Afghanistan occupation surge, the Army is currently undertaking one of the largest IRR recalls in the program's history. Over the last eight years however, thousands of IRR soldiers and Marines have questioned this "emergency" and have simply refused and ignored involuntary activation—without any real consequences.
The most common military enlistment is four years active or reserve duty, followed by an additional four years inactive. These “inactive” years are explained to enlistees as just that, “inactive”—just keep your uniforms, military ID card, and notify the military of address changes.
The current emergency that allows the Army and Marines to recall IRR members is the open-ended “Global War on Terror” that includes the occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Many enlistees do not fully realize that most enlistments actually cover eight years of their life.
Resisting involuntary activation
“The question for IRR members is whether or not they should leave their new civilian lives behind so soon after being discharged to fight in illegal aggressions and occupation. The benefit is certainly not for veterans who, if they have not already been so, stand only to get wounded, killed or sustain psychological trauma in the form of PTSD. I encourage all IRR service members to start questioning what they are being told by a military system that will tell them anything to fill its quotas.”
–Benjamin “Benji” Lewis, Marine IRR member facing June 2009 recall
Members of the IRR are not under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) until they report for the Army’s evaluation for activation. Note that this is a practical summation and not a legal declaration as military legal experts are divided on this question as a matter of law. The fact is that the military has never taken judicial action against an IRR resister, ever.
Since IRR members are not subject to the UCMJ, the military has no formal jurisdiction to take action against IRR individuals if they do not voluntarily report—and there are no corresponding civilian laws requiring IRR individuals to report.
If an IRR member does report—even if only to apply for a waiver from activation—they can again be punished under the UCMJ for being absent without leave and unauthorized absence (AWOL/UA), missing movement, conduct unbecoming, etc. if they later decide to resist.
IRR resisters (individuals who, for whatever reason, do not report) should expect to receive threatening letters and phone calls from the military for up to one year past their report date.
About a third of IRR members recalled do not initially report. However, many will be intimidated into eventually doing so. The military often tells IRR members that a warrant for their arrest will be issued if they do not report. While it’s true that thousands of federal arrest warrants are issued annually for AWOL/UA active duty and reservists, this is simply not true for IRR resisters.
“I am refusing to go. I was honorably discharged in May 2007. I served a tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. We need to get this information out there that veterans like me have a choice.”
–IRR resister (anonymous)
Failure to contact
Thousands of IRR members have successfully refused involuntary recall in the last few years. They have done so by not reporting for activation and passively ignoring the military.
For example, they refuse to sign for certified letters and they do not take phone calls unless from a recognized caller. Many change their phone number, or at least their outgoing phone message to not include their name—all for “plausible deniability.” If contacted by the military, family members of the IRR individual often explain, “That person cannot be reached here, please do not call again. Good bye.”
If the military can’t contact an IRR individual, they file them away as a “failure to contact.” Usually, at the end the enlistment agreement, the resister will receive an honorable discharge from the IRR—but it really doesn’t matter.
Types of discharge from the IRR
If the military believes that a no-show is due to something other than a “failure to contact,” the military is more likely to eventually discharge the individual under a “General” or “Other Than Honorable” classification from the IRR. This is more likely to occur to individuals who “make contact” with the military via phone or letters, but do not report—including individuals who publicly refuse IRR recall, and more commonly, individuals who unsuccessfully apply for an exemption.
The type of discharge one receives from the IRR has absolutely no impact on the individual’s honorable discharge from active duty. One’s GI Bill education benefits, VA medical benefits, and DD-214 remain unaffected.
A “bad” discharge from the IRR may negatively impact an individual during an in-depth background check. These are done for job applicants applying for positions with the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, etc.
Requesting an exemption from activation
“Our mission was to receive, process, and retrain IRR soldiers who reported for duty. It was a nightmare. Many IRR soldiers no longer had their uniform issue and had to buy a new issue at a cost of several hundred dollars. The IRR soldiers were restricted to training areas and billets…. They were not too thrilled.”
–Career military veteran and former IRR trainer (anonymous)
About 50% of those recalled request a deferment or exemption. Most activation delays are granted, and about 50% of those that request an exemption get it. Individuals who apply for exemptions remotely via phone and fax prior to the recall date maintain the option of simply not reporting if their request is denied. However, if an individual is told that they must physically report to complete the process, there is no going back after doing so.
The actual exemption process is vague and the outcomes somewhat arbitrary. There is no official form to fill out, just a personal statement with supporting documents such as medical records. Exemption requests can be made for any reason, the most common being medical, family care, and educational.
IRR members most likely to receive exemptions include those with medical disabilities rated at 30% or more by the Veterans Administration (or a claim pending for the same that is judged by the IRR mobilization authority as “likely to succeed”), and those that are the sole caregiver of a dependent.
Courage to resist unjust war
“I served in the Army as a Photojournalist until being honorably discharged last summer after over four years of service in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines…. I received a letter from the Army ordering my return to active duty, for the purpose of mobilization for Operation Iraqi Freedom…. This occupation is unconstitutional and illegal and I hereby lawfully refuse to participate.”
—Matthis Chiroux, outspoken recall resister currently contesting on principle of his “General” discharge from the IRR
Courage to Resist is unaware of any IRR resister who has faced legal consequences or a loss of benefits. That doesn't mean it is impossible for any particular case to be a first. However, it would seem that the most likely “worst case situation” is that a resister could somehow be compelled to report for activation after initially refusing. The military is more interested in deploying NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) than taking on politically charged ground-breaking legal cases.
Soldiers and Marines even face aggressive and misleading recruitment tactics towards the end of their enlistments. Currently, the threat of an IRR recall is one of the most effective pitches. It goes something like this: “If you leave now, we’ll just recall you after you settle into civilian life. Reenlist to know who you’ll be serving with and get that bonus you deserve.”
IRR mobilization officer Maj. Nadine Kokolis recently admitted that the “culture and past management of the IRR has made it difficult for many to accept that call-ups will become common practice." To address this problem, the military is now in the process of relabeling IRR personnel “Individual Warriors” in hope of increasing “motivated participation.” This is not a new type of service, just a rebranding of the IRR.
One might expect a disclaimer here for IRR individuals to consult with an attorney before making decisions. The problem is that some pay thousands in legal fees to lawyers for little more than help assembling an exemption package.
- If you decide that you require legal representation, we suggest contacting the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force at www.nlgmltf.org or 619-463-2369 for a referral.
- Many IRR resisters are members of Iraq Veterans Against the War—www.ivaw.org or 646-723-0989.
- For general information about getting out of the military, contact the GI Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487.
This overview is based on Courage to Resist’s direct experience with hundreds of IRR resisters, GI rights counselors across the country, and civilian lawyers specializing in military defense. This information may change. Updates can be found at www.couragetoresist.org/irr
"By refusing activation, I refused to participate in wars that serve the purposes of furthering the careers of politicians and high-ranking officers…. The military is a force that rules through fear of retribution for disobeying its will. In reality, more than a third of IRRs simply refuse to report to duty."
—Brandon Neely, former Army MP, Iraq veteran, recall resister eventually discharged “honorably” from the IRR
Courage to Resist wants to hear from soldiers and Marines with experiences regarding the Individual Ready Reserve since 2001 in order to improve this overview. Be sure to note if we may publish quotes from you and if we may use your name while doing so.
In early December 2009, LTC Maria Quon, a public affairs officer with the US Army Human Resources Command in St. Lewis, provided the most current official statistics regarding the IRR yet. Courage to Resist is skeptical of many of these actual numbers, specifically we believe the number of individuals who failed to report is under represented. However, these numbers do provide some insight into the situation. Our thanks to independent journalist Marisa Kendall for this information from her article, “Civilian Soldiers: The Involuntary Activation of Army IRR Personnel,” December 2, 2009.
Unless otherwise specified, these Army statistics cover the period between September 11, 2001 and November 30, 2009.
59,151 – The number of individuals in the IRR as of November 30, 2009.
29,970 – IRR soldiers who received recall orders—slightly over half of all eligible.
14,854 – IRR soldiers who actually reported for activation—slightly less than half of those who were ordered to do so.
13,000 (approx.) – IRR soldiers who requested a delay or exemption. 10,500 (approx.) were granted. If true, that is a 78% success rate. However, we believe that requested delays are nearly automatic, while requested exemptions are closer to 50%.
2,294 – IRR soldiers who failed to report without seeking an exemption.
370 – IRR soldiers who received an Other Than Honorable discharge from the IRR.
109 – IRR soldiers who received a General discharge from the IRR.
7,312 – IRR soldiers who deployed to Iraq.
3,374 – IRR soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan.
731 – The number of IRR soldiers who were activated but served stateside. Of those recalled, 95% were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
28 – IRR soldiers killed in action, or due to “accidental causes” while on active duty.
0 – IRR soldiers who were subjected to judicial action for failing to report for recall.
Courage to Resist | e-mail | 510-488-3559 | 484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland CA 94610
Courage to Resist published “Resisting Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) recall” in February 2009. Since then, inquiries from current and former military personnel affected by the IRR program have been a substantial part of our daily work.
This FAQ assumes that you have already read our original resisting IRR overview.
- How do I know that the information you provide is true and accurate?
- What happens if I just don’t show up for involuntary activation?
- Do I need to go “underground” and hide if I don’t report?
- Is it true that I might be arrested and jailed for not reporting?
- Where does it state that the UCMJ does not apply to the IRR?
- What about my military benefits?
- I’m leaving active duty soon. Can I avoid being placed into the IRR?
- Should I reenlist or transfer to a Reserve unit in order to avoid IRR activation?
- How many people are currently being involuntarily recalled by the IRR?
- Should I file for a formal exemption from involuntary activation?
- What more can you tell me about filing for an exemption?
- Does this information apply to the “Individual Warrior" category / program also?
- Does the information about the IRR apply to Reservists also?
- Does the information about the IRR apply to “Stop Loss” also?
- What’s the actual fall out of a bad IRR discharge?
- By making this IRR information available, will not the military close this "loop hole"?
- If I refuse activation, and they come after me, will you help me?
- Should I hire an attorney to get me out of an involuntary activation?
- What about reporting for semi-regular IRR musters?
- I’m an officer. Does this information apply to me also?
- What’s the difference between resisting activation and just not showing up?
- After resisting IRR recall, can I still work on or visit my local military base?
Regardless of whether you find your question listed or not, please feel free to call us at 510-488-3559 to discuss your situation.