Do Army trauma surgeons get "recalled" for a third tour of duty in Iraq?
May 5, 2014 2:56 PM   Subscribe

How common / realistic is it for an Army trauma surgeon to be "recalled" to be deployed for a third tour of duty in Iraq?

(Not sure how to handle spoilers in this context.)

I saw If/Then on Broadway, and one of the things that's been bugging me was a plot point surrounding one of the characters, an Army trauma surgeon who, at the start of the play, is returning from his second tour of duty in Iraq.

There is a reference in some dialog to him "no longer being in the Army" as of the day before -- he's now "in the reserve" (or something to that effect) -- presumably, Individual Ready Reserve? After a couple of years, he receives a telephone call informing him that he is being called up for a third tour. I recall further dialog references to him having "used up all his deferrals" earlier, given the birth of his kids.

Does that scenario ring true to life? I know that there's a number of servicemen and women who have done three (or more) tours, but was wondering whether it's possible (or common) for someone to be called out of the IRR for a third tour. (I'm also curious how realistic that scenario might be for trauma surgeons versus other specialties.)
posted by QuantumMeruit to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know two physicians who were called up out from the IRR and sent to Iraq, but neither of them had a combat tour before that. I don't think anyone would have got a third tour from the IRR, but it's not against regulations in and of itself.

And I never heard anyone referring to "deferrals," because there's no such official thing anymore. You get called up and you have an excuse, you can maybe get out of it if you can convince the personnel manager that it's not worth the effort to fuck you over, but there's no "using them up" -- if the Army says go, you go.

I'd put this in the "eye roll" category of military mistakes in pop culture -- it's not so egregious that it derails the play in my head, but it's definitely done for narrative reasons.
posted by Etrigan at 3:20 PM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sure there were rare exceptions, but by the time anyone was up for a third tour of Iraq (say 2008 or so), the Army's solution to a problem to insufficient deployable people in a certain MOS and paygrade was stop-loss orders -- which prevented someone from going from an active or activatable status to one that was not. Taking someone from two years on the IRR would be very expensive in terms of incremental physical and MOS refresh training, etc. More likely such a person was a Guardsman or (ready) Reservist who was stop-loss'd and in an MSO where they tried to be humane about who got sent overseas.

Early on in the GWOT you heard a lot about people being recalled from IRR or from even more attenuated affiliations (like officers who'd completed their total 8-year commitment of active duty and reserve, but hadn't resigned their commissions).
posted by MattD at 3:31 PM on May 5, 2014

Seconding what Etrigan wrote.
posted by seasparrow at 3:38 PM on May 5, 2014

I have never been in the military but my husband and father were both career military.

There is a reference in some dialog to him "no longer being in the Army" as of the day before -- he's now "in the reserve" (or something to that effect) -- presumably, Individual Ready Reserve?

A lot of people have an obligation to serve in the reserves after they leave active duty. I am not clear, but I think a lot of medical personnel are in the military to get their schooling covered and wind up having to be in the reserves for an extended period after their active duty obligation is up as part of the deal to get ridiculous amounts of college for "free."

After a couple of years, he receives a telephone call informing him that he is being called up for a third tour. I recall further dialog references to him having "used up all his deferrals" earlier, given the birth of his kids.

I do not know the answer to that but the article, below, is about a surgeon in the reserves who died. It says his last tour had been two years earlier. I suspect, but do not know for sure, that medical reservists keep current with a lot of their necessary MOS skills by being practicing physicians/nurses/whatever. (MOS just means your job classicifation in the military, basically.) I know nothing about deferrals or the Iraq war. It's been nearly a decade since I was a military wife and we divorced before he left the service.
A Philadelphia trauma surgeon who lived in South Jersey was killed Christmas Day in Iraq, where he was serving in an Army reserve medical unit.

Pryor was serving his second tour of duty as a major with a forward surgical team with the Army's 1st Medical Detachment, based in Fort Totten, N.Y., and had arrived in Iraq just a week ago, his brother said. Pryor had previously served two years ago at a combat support hospital in Abu Ghraib.

I think much of it is plausible (with the possible exception of the deferrals? though not sure). My impression is that medical personnel are handled a bit differently than other MOS's. But my ex was not a medical guy, so I don't know for sure. I just know that the military is willing to help some folks go to medical school and it has medical facilities open all over the U.S. in part to make sure we always have a ready medical infrastructure in place for when war breaks out. Providing "free" medical care to the families of soldiers is not just a perk to help convince people to be willing to serve their country, it is also a means to keep medical personnel busy during times of peace because they need them ready for war as well and on staff, not just soldiers.
posted by Michele in California at 3:56 PM on May 5, 2014

When I was in culinary school a lot of the other chefs-in-training were former military. One served active duty during Bosnia - which sure, we don't generally think of as a war - but it was. As we ended culinary school, the folks that were in their second tour to Iraq were starting to get called up for a third time - because recruitment rates are down during wartime... (duh.) The military was starting to get creative, and starting to leverage National Guard because - well... creative...

Well, needless to say, my buddy Mike finished school, and as soon as he was done, he was called back. During the 90s, the military offered a pretty good deal for college, and it was pretty safe - even Mike said that 'active duty Bosnia' wasn't bad. But, Mike had also signed up for a larger GI payment for being what sounds like an 'on-call' situation for 7 years post-honorable discharge... so when the military called... Mike went to Iraq... to relieve those soldiers that yes, were otherwise asked to serve three tours...

Now there was an additional thing with this though, because they would also hit people with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq... which... heh... is only two tours in Iraq and still a whole lot of people shooting at you.... but that is what my wife's cousin was asked to do... He referred to the whole thing as 'Iraq' because at the time... that's where the media focus was.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:57 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Plausible, actually likely if instead of IRR he was actual Reserve. On my last deployment there were some bitter-ass recalled medical personnel.
posted by corb at 8:52 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's entirely plausible if the first tour or two were while the doc was active duty. To be called out of the IRR if one was (e.g.) a trauma or cardiothoracic surgeon wasn't uncommon.

Even well after 2008 (2011 in the case I am personally aware of), physicians who were entering the reserves (selective reserves - the sort that drill monthly) could be magically designated a more senior rank AND given deployment orders before they were out of initial "WELCOME TO THE MILITARY" training. Not a happy-making situation.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:23 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

A family friend "served in the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Corps, including three combat duty deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq."

While he kept a positive attitude generally and blogged for his local paper during his deployment, I recall him expressing some frustration with the final tour as it wasn't very convenient for him in some logistical respects.
posted by dhartung at 1:17 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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