Resisting Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) recall

May 4, 2010

Courage to Resist. Updated May 4, 2010 [Updated PDF leaflet] [FAQ]

“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—with few 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

Benji Lewis

Benji Lewis

“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. 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.

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.

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.

Half of all IRR members recalled do not initially report. Of those that do not report, most file for exemptions or delays. Many ignore the initial letters and phone calls, but are eventually intimidated into reporting. However, thousands have simply never reported. 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 so 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.”

IRR muster

IRR muster

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 anyway. According to the Army, of the acknowledged 2,300 IRR “no shows” since 2004, only about one in five got a “bad” IRR discharge.

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 VA medical benefits and DD-214 remain unaffected. However, some benefits of the new “Post 9/11 GI Bill”—specifically, the housing and books allowances—are currently being withheld from some IRR refusers.

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)

Nearly half of those recalled request a delay or exemption, known as a “D & E”. To apply, Soldiers need to complete an exemption packet (Army D & E Guide Sept. 09) with as much supporting documentation as possible, and they need to do so within 14 days of the date printed on their orders.

About half of those that request an exemption, and appeal if at first denied, get it. However, it’s becoming harder to win these exemptions. Exemption requests can be made for “extreme hardship” or medical disqualification–separation from family or loss of income is not enough.

Individuals who apply for exemptions remotely via mail or 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.

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 can prove they are the sole caregiver of a dependent.

Courage to resist unjust war

Matthis Chiroux

Matthis Chiroux

“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 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 beyond the housing and books allowances provided by the “Post 9/11 GI Bill”. 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 or 619-463-2369 for a referral.
  • Many IRR resisters are members of Iraq Veterans Against the or 215-241-7123.
  • 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

Brandon Neely

Brandon Neely

“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

Also: IRR related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


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.

Change log

February 2009—Original published

December 2009—Clarification of the UCMJ’s relationship to the IRR; More “neutral” wording on filing for an exemption, and clarification on the exemption process; Addition and incorporation of newly released official IRR Army statistics.

January 2010—Clarification of Army IRR statistics; Additional FAQ background on IRR as a reenlistment tool; FAQ update about positive drug testing no longer resulting in deployment exemptions.

April 2010Important update: Some “Post-9/11 GI Bill” benefits affected by refusal; Updated Army Delay or Exemption information (D&E)


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 September 11, 2001 through November 30, 2009. They do not include the Marine Corps IRR (that is also subjecting individuals to involuntary activation), or that of the Air Force and the Navy (which are not currently recalling individuals).

59,151 – The number of individuals in the Army IRR as of November 30, 2009.

300,000 (approx.) – Total number of soldiers who “served” in the IRR since 2001.

29,970 – IRR soldiers who received recall orders—about 10% of the total eligible since 2001. The current ratio is closer to 15% due to increased demands on the IRR.

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. For those recalled, there was a 95% they were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

28 – IRR soldiers killed in action, or died due to “accidental causes” while on active duty.

0 – IRR soldiers who were subjected to judicial action for failing to report for recall.

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