It’s time to clear up some confusion about President Joe Biden’s recent executive order for Operation Atlantic Resolve: The president is not deploying more troops to Europe yet, nor has he called up anyone from the Individual Ready Reserve.

The executive order allows the Defense Department to mobilize troops from the Select Reserve and the Individual Ready Reserve for operations in Europe. Members of the Individual Ready Reserve have left active duty and they do not drill but still have time on their obligation to serve.

Since the executive order was released on Thursday, many social media users have assumed Biden is mobilizing hundreds if not thousands of members of the Individual Ready Reserve for combat deployments to Europe. The feeling of unease is especially palpable among veterans who have recently left active duty and would still have time remaining on their eight year military service obligation.

However, the executive order is an administrative action, and no one has been tasked to deploy yet, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.

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In essence, the executive order places caps on the types of reserve component forces that could deploy to Europe if needed: Up to 3,000 troops, of which no more than 450 can come from the Individual Ready Reserve, Ryder said.

Individual Ready Reserve
U.S. Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) check into an IRR Muster in Tampa, Florida, Jan. 28, 2023.(Lance Cpl. David Intriago/U.S. Marine Corps)

“It doesn’t mean, for example, that 3,000 reservists will be called up, or 450 IRR [Individual Ready Reserve members] will be called up,” Ryder told Task & Purpose. “It just means those are the parameters which DoD can use.”

The executive order derives its authority in part from Title 10 of the U.S. Code — the compilation of federal statutes —  which, if fully implemented, authorizes up to 200,000 reservists to be mobilized at any one time, of which up to 30,000 can be from the Individual Ready Reserve.

“The President’s executive order; however, limits the call up to 3,000 Selected Reserve of whom no more than 450 may be from the IRR,” Ryder said. “That’s simply a proportional percentage of the statute.  There isn’t an intent to necessarily use that authority, rather it simply provides force management flexibility to sustain current operations.”

The Army and Air Force have identified several types of billets that the executive order gives them the authority to fill, including contracting, military police, dental support, human resources, finance, and possibly replacement combat forces, Ryder said.

By designating Operation Atlantic Resolve as a contingency operation, Biden’s executive order also ensures that any members of the Select or Individual Ready Reserve who are eventually deployed to Europe receive the same benefits as active-duty troops, Ryder told reporters on Thursday.

The Defense Department called up thousands of members from the Individual Ready Reserve during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The process was rocky at first. In January 2005, the Army reported that half of the Individual Ready Reserve members mobilized had asked for a delay or exemption for their orders, and hundreds of others simply failed to show up at deployment stations, Stars and Stripes reported at the time.

Critics described the mobilization of Individual Ready Reserve members and the military’s use of “stop-loss” to prevent service members from separating as constituting a “backdoor draft.”

As of right now, no specific units have been identified or tasked to deploy to Europe per the president’s executive order, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II, director of operations for the Joint Staff, told reporters on Thursday.

“These are not additional forces; these are forces that will augment what we already have there,” Sims said at a Pentagon news briefing. “So, as an example, over time, where we may have had someone from an active-component organization doing something, that job now under these authorities may be something that a reserve component unit may be able to do.”

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