“I” doesn’t stand for inactive in the IRR
Story and Photos by Sgt 1st Class Chris Farley 88th Regional Support Command Public Affairs Office.
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Harry Caray, the late Chicago Cubs baseball announcer, was famous for saying “Holy Cow!” in excitement when commentating on baseball games.
One hundred and thirty-eight Chicago-area Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Soldiers who received an IRR muster invitation in the mail from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC) in early April probably voiced an homage to Caray: “Holy Cow! I’m going to be deployed.”
There’s an urban legend about soldiers at musters getting handed deployment orders and same-day plane tickets.The reality is that no one gets bused to the airport from a muster. A muster is a one-day event for which soldiers get paid about $200. IRR soldiers come in civilian clothes to an Army Reserve Center or Veterans Affairs facility, update their records, and learn about their benefits, including promotion, schooling, health care and civilian job opportunities. They’re home in time for dinner.
In 2010, HRC will reach out to nearly 36,000 IRR soldiers, considered highly-trained and experienced assets of the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR). IRR soldiers have already served in an active duty status or actively participated in an Army Reserve unit. Now they’re fulfilling the rest of their Military Service Obligation (MSO) in the IRR. Every soldier who joins the Army has a legal MSO of not less than 6 and not more than 8 years.
HRC handles the muster program and started conducting musters in 2007. The initial musters focused on making sure the attending soldiers’ personnel records and medical screenings were updated. But during those early musters, said Lt. Col. Craig Smith, the HRC Muster Team Chief, they uncovered a lot of soldiers’ concerns and the musters evolved over time into a mission of outreach as well as records validation.
“What we found is you can’t, in good conscience, go out and ask soldiers how they are doing and find out they are not doing real well in a lot of different areas and not do something about it. It gave us the inspiration to start partnering with agencies that could address the concerns the soldiers had,” said Smith.
The outreach piece of the musters involves bringing in vendors and subject matter experts who can answer questions and provide information on benefits that are either new or went unaddressed during the demobilization process. Musters now resemble a career and education fair with vendor booths set up between muster stations. Mustering IRR soldiers have the opportunity to meet with Employee Partnership Office representatives as well as staff from Civilian Personnel Advisory Centers to discuss civilian and federal job opportunities. Other venders have included the Defense Commissary Agency, Department of Veterans Affairs, Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and Military One Source.
“Part of the reason why we are here is to make sure that all returning service members participating in the IRR musters are aware the VA is here with them as a veteran, and if they return to active duty, we are here with them when they get back as well,” said Ivy Lloyd, Master of Social Work, and an Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom program manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The muster was also a day for recognizing several soldiers for their service. The 88th Regional Support Command (RSC) has developed a program that Smith wants to see replicated by other RSCs supporting musters. The program involves reviewing the list of all attending soldiers and checking their personnel files to see if they were awarded the Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award after a deployment; and if not, to ensure they are publicly presented with the award at a muster. The presentation includes an encased American flag, a specially-designed commemorative coin and certificate, a lapel pin set for the Soldier and spouse, and a "Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen" flag.
During the Arlington Muster, five IRR soldiers received Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award: Maj. John Agostini, Bartlett, IL; Cpl Jay L. Mudrak, Racine, WI; Lt. Col. Lisa Moeller, Downers Grove, IL; Sgt. Frank Dillinger, Joliet, IL; and Spc. Steven J. Satterlee, Elgin, IL.
Brig. Gen. Leslie A. Purser, deputy chief of the Army Reserve, said she observed that some IRR soldiers obviously didn’t want to be there at first. “But once they walked around and saw all the opportunities that were available to them there was more pep in their steps and smiles.” Pfc. Antonio S. Villa from Hammond, Ind. was a supply specialist on active duty for three years and has been in the IRR for two years. Villa said he’s been thinking about transferring to an Army Reserve unit (also known as Troop Program Units, or TPUs) but his girlfriend doesn’t want him to. “She’s worried about me deploying again,” he said.
At the muster Villa learned that if he transfers from the IRR into a TPU, he’ll get a two-year mobilization deferment. The same applies to soldiers who go from full-time active duty straight into a TPU. He also learned that TPU Soldiers qualify for health, dental and life insurance plans.
If Villa does transfer, he wouldn’t be unique. In 2008, 2,900 IRRs who received muster orders transferred to TPUs. In 2009, 3,335 IRRs who received muster orders transferred to TPUs. Brig. Gen. William D.R. “Razz” Waff, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Human Resources Command, said the musters can produce major savings for the Army.
Waff said that every trained, experienced IRR soldier who transfers to a TPU saves the Army anywhere from $57,000 to $69,400. This dollar amount includes Army recruiting and advertising costs as well as the expense of getting a new recruit through the Military Entrance Processing Station, Basic Training, and on to his or her first unit after Advanced Individual Training. Since the first IRR muster in 2007, HRC has been transforming the “Holy Cow” moments into opportunities to hear about programs and benefits that will improve the soldier’s quality of life. As the IRR soldiers learned during the Arlington Heights muster, it’s a day well spent.