Military Reserves Federal Call Up Authority

From Reserves to Active Duty

Army Reserve soldiers shoot for top honors
 The U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret/416th Theater Engineer Command/Wikimedia Commons/cc-by-2.0

The Department of Defense's total force policy recognizes that active and reserve U.S. military forces should be readily available to support military operations.

Reserve forces, once considered to be forces of last resort, are now recognized as indispensable to the nation's defense from the earliest days of a conflict. In addition, the reserves' peacetime support to the active forces has taken on increased importance in areas such as peacekeeping missions, counter-drug operations, disaster aid, and exercise support.

What Are the Military Reserves 

The seven reserve components are the Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, Naval Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve.

The governor of each state can call the state's Army and Air National Guard units to active duty to help respond to domestic emergencies and disasters, such as those caused by hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.

If additional help is needed, a governor can request federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). With a presidential declaration of disaster, FEMA's federal assistance can include additional military support from the Department of Defense (DoD). This applies to both active duty and reserve forces.

Type of Activation / Mobilizations

The following are the types of authorized use of Reservist and National Guard forces:

INVOLUNTARY ACTIVATION - The President, Congress, and the Secretary of Defense can call up Reservists. The difference is the time they are allowed to be Actively Recalled. The President and Congress can call Reservists for extended periods of time. The SECDEF can call up reservists for no more than 15 days. The Coast Guard can get recalled for longer periods of time by the SECDEF but still limited compared to the President or Congress. 

FULL MOBILIZATION - In times of war or national emergency AND it is actually declared by Congress, all Reservist UNITS are eligible for involuntary activation. There is no time limit or up until six months after the war is over. 

PARTIAL MOBILIZATION - In times of war or national emergency, the President can call up to a million reservists for up to two years of active duty time. 

PRESIDENTIAL RESERVE CALL-UP AUTHORITY - The president can call up to 200,000 Reservists and even 30,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). This action can keep members on active duty for up to one year.

ARMED FORCES IN DISASTER RESPONSE - A state governor can make a request for support in emergency or major disaster. The secretary of defense may also involuntarily call up any Reserve units (and individuals) to assist with a domestic emergency or disaster for up to 120 days. 

ASSURED ACCESS AUTHORITY - The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard secretaries may involuntarily call up 60,000 Reserve units (not individuals) for up to a year when NOT during times of war or national emergency for special missions in support of an active duty combatant command. 

VOLUNTARY ACTIVATION - Of course, Reservists can volunteer for active duty. Many are augmented individually into active duty units this way when needed.

Calling Up Military Reserves

In time of war or national emergency declared by the Congress, the entire membership of all reserve components or any lesser number can be called to active duty for the duration of the war or national emergency, plus six months.

Although this statute normally is viewed as the call-up authority for responding to a major threat to national security, DoD stated that it could be used to activate reservists for a domestic emergency.

Military Reserves in National Emergencies

In time of national emergency declared by the President, up to 1 million members of the Ready Reserve can be called to active duty for not more than 24 consecutive months. Similar to the previous authority, DoD stated that this statute could also provide access to reservists for a domestic emergency.

When the President determines that it is necessary to augment the active forces for any operational mission, up to 200,000 members of the Selected Reserve can be called to active duty for not more than 270 days.

This provision also states that no unit or member may be ordered to active duty under this authority to provide assistance to either the federal government or a state in time of a serious natural or manmade disaster, accident, or catastrophe. Thus, this authority cannot be used to access reservists for domestic emergencies.

Putting Military Reservists on Active Duty

A service secretary can order any reservist to active duty for up to 15 days each year. This authority traditionally has been viewed as the authority allowing the services to enforce the reservists' 2-week annual training requirement. This authority could be used for operational missions as well as annual active duty for training

In addition to the involuntary activation of reservists under the above conditions, 10 U.S.C. 12301(d) provides for a call-up of reservists who volunteer for active duty. The number of volunteer reservists called to active duty and the length of time they may be kept on active duty generally depends upon the availability of funds and the end-strength authorizations for the active force.

Coast Guard and Active Duty

There is separate statutory authority allowing involuntary call-up of Coast Guard reservists during domestic emergencies. Each Coast Guard ready reservist may be required to serve up to 30 days in any four-month period and up to 60 days in any two-year period.

For more information on the rights of Reservists and National Guard see Employment Rights according to the Department of Justice.