Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Commander says reservists
likely will go to East Timor

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The head of the nation's 204,000-member Army Reserves says it is inevitable that reservists will be called to active duty to participate in whatever limited peacekeeping role the United States plays in East Timor.

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Plewes, commanding general of the Army Reserves, said in an interview, "The active services don't do anything today without the National Guard and the (Army and Air Force) Reserves."

Yesterday, President Clinton said the United States will have a "limited but important function," but did not anticipate sending ground troops.

Besides flying troops from other nations into East Timor, Clinton said other tasks that could be performed by American forces include providing intelligence reports and communications help.

Plewes, stopping over in Honolulu from last week's Pacific Asian Commanders Conference in Singapore, said he hadn't gotten any indication how the Army Reserve would be employed. He noted that his forces perform 92 percent of the Army's specialties dealing with civilians and the community.

"About 70 percent, or 8,000 Army soldiers, make up the active Army's psychological operations assets," Plewes added.

In Europe, more than 13,000 Army Reserves have been called to active duty for nine months to support the Bosnia effort, while there will be an additional 700 reservists and National Guard soldiers rotating through Kosovo, he said.

Most of the Army's transportation and medical specialties are tasked to Army Reserve units, placing a heavy dependence on the Reserves as the United States expands its global commitments.

Plewes in the past has noted that the Army Reserve now provides 41 percent of the needs of the active Army.

And like all of the active forces, the Army Reserve is having problems filling its ranks.

"Our overall strength is down by 4,000," Plewes said, noting that the Army Reserve this year missed its recruiting goal of 46,000 new soldiers.

"We recruited about 38,000 new soldiers nationally, missing our goal by about 20 percent," he added. "In Hawaii, we came pretty close to obtaining our goal of 577 and recruited 495 new soldiers."

Besides the current strong national economy, which works against military recruiters, Plewes said that today's young men and women are "less inclined to go into any service."

"The active Army is doing a better job of retaining soldiers and there is a smaller pool of folks coming off active duty."

In the past, Army Reserve officials counted heavily on enticing those soldiers to stay in uniform on a part-time basis.

"This is the worst situation we have been since the early 1970s when we turned to an all-volunteer force," said Plewes, who was an associate commissioner at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics until he went on active duty with the Army Reserve three years ago.

"This is just not a 1999 story, but one we have to focus on for a long time," he said.

To try to entice new recruits, the Army Reserve is offering a signing bonus of $5,000 to $8,000 and has added an additional $3,000 to its student loan program for enlisted soldiers with special skills in maintenance and health services.

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