In late March, the United States Army sent out a call for retired officers and soldiers in one of several high-demand medical specialties to return to help with the coronavirus pandemic. After reaching out to over 800,000 retired military members, more than 25,000 retirees contacted the Army to learn more — a surprisingly high response rate of more than 3%.
Just a week later, the Army sent out a new voluntary recall request to 10,000 recently separated troops in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). This recall request went to soldiers who served in specialties including generalist nurse, nurse anesthetists, critical care nursing, family nurse practitioner, respiratory specialist, and emergency nursing.
The new call came after President Trump issued an executive order that authorized the military to recall IRR and Selected Reserve members to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Troops in the IRR generally join for 4 or 5 years after completing active-duty service and receive no pay although there is no need to drill aside from periodic muster events. IRR troops have to remain ready for the possibility of an involuntary recall by the president.
While IRR troops can be involuntarily recalled, the Army took the step of asking for volunteers to fill gaps and meet increased demand for medical providers, especially in hard-hit areas like New York City and Detroit.
It’s unknown how many recalled soldiers the Army needs to fill staffing gaps and whether an involuntary recall will be needed. So far, three mobile field hospitals have been deployed with 330 soldiers in Seattle and New York City. It’s also unknown how long it will be until the volunteers who answered the request will be ready to serve but volunteer certifications and qualifications will need to be up-to-date first.
Other services are still assessing their needs. The Marine Corps and Navy are reviewing whether they need to recall IRR members while the Air Force has said it expects it will mobilize medical personnel first and may expand to other areas of specialty. So far, there are no immediate plans to recall former airmen.
Military services have already activated at least some of their Reserves to help with the pandemic efforts. The Navy has 200 reservists on hospital ships in California and New York while the Army Reserve has units providing support in New Orleans, Utah, and a handful of other cities.