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Wednesday, October 1

Military's reliance on `civilian soldiers' taking toll

By The Des Moines Register

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Second Lt. Bill Waller, an Army National Guard officer, sat in a sweltering tent on the outskirts of Baghdad, trying to make sense of his place in a confusing and dangerous war.

His Iowa-based military police company had been attacked on the city's streets a day earlier. Three troops were injured, including a 22-year-old soldier whose legs were blown off. The unit has been in the Persian Gulf region since April and isn't expected to head home anytime soon.

"We'll get through this," said Waller, a special education teacher at Des Moines (Iowa) East High School. "But there are so few MPs in the regular Army, that leaves us doing things we never imagined. Things have changed for people in the Guard."

National Guard and Reserve forces - part-time soldiers who for years were called "weekend warriors" - find themselves increasingly assigned to the front lines in Iraq and other trouble spots in America's widening war on terror to make up for a shrunken regular Army.

Almost 300,000 Guard and Reserve troops have been called to active duty at various times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the largest mobilization in the 30-year history of the nation's all-volunteer military. At least 49 Guard soldiers and reservists have died in Iraq, and some members complain they are being thrust into combat and police duties for which they were not prepared.

Last week, the Pentagon said it may need to call up thousands more National Guard and Reserve troops for Iraq duty.

With deployments stretching to a year or more, everyone from families to soldiers to defense experts worries that the Pentagon's dependence on citizen-soldiers carries profound implications.

- Employers, including state and local governments, are losing scores of key employees such as police officers and firefighters. Civilian careers remain on indefinite hold or fade while the troops are away on long deployments.

- Analysts and political leaders predict this, and future, deployments will make it more difficult to recruit and retain members of the Guard and Reserve, who have become indispensable in the global terrorism conflict. - Being called up visits particular hardships on Guard and Reserve members, who are generally older and more likely to leave behind children than regular service members.

"This is a historic dilemma that we haven't seen since Vietnam, in my opinion," said Robert Krause of Waterloo, Iowa, a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who is Iowa president of the Reserve Officers Association. "We haven't gotten ourselves into an international pickle this deep for a long time."

It may be too late for some.

"I was a lifer," said Sgt. Tim Ashworth of Panora, Iowa, who has been in Kuwait since April with the Iowa National Guard's 1168th Transportation Company. "Now, after this deployment, I don't know."

The 32-year-old Ashworth has been a member of the Guard 12 years. He's always known he could be called to active duty and never complained. Now, he's concerned about future and more lengthy deployments for Guard units, increasingly being used to back up a U. S. Army without enough full-time soldiers to do the job.

"I signed the contract," he said. "But when you join the Guard, your first job is your job at home. Your second job is to serve and protect the state of Iowa. Your third is to serve your country. I assumed when we were called up we'd come here, do a medium tactical job and go home. Kids here are going to miss out on college this fall and people are needed at their jobs back home."

The nation's defense leaders are rethinking their dependence upon the National Guard and other military reserve branches.

It's a delicate subject, particularly because the part-time soldiers drive trucks, repair helicopters, give medical care, serve as military police officers, and perform other critical support missions. Without these troops, regular infantry and aviation combat units would have difficulty performing combat operations and - as is apparent in Iraq - sustaining operations in the months and years following a war.

``We have forgotten the distinction between the reserves and the active forces,'' said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland. ``Our reservists are spending a lot of time on active duty. It is more difficult for them because they have other lives and other jobs. I am amazed that our soldiers and families are holding up as well as they are, quite frankly.''

Specialist William Maples, 25, of Des Moines is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve's 3rd Corps Support Command, serving in Iraq. Maples spent three years in the regular Army, serving in Bosnia and Germany, and then joined the reserves for college tuition assistance. He was a senior computer science major at Iowa State University with a new girlfriend when he was called to active duty in February.

Joe Maples, William's father, said his son had hoped to return home by Thanksgiving, but Pentagon officials recently announced that Guard and Reserve troops in Iraq can be required to stay up to one year, which means he likely will be there until next year, his father said.

"My son is pretty unhappy,'' Maples said. ``The way he put it to me was, `I just want to get back home, go to school and graduate before I turn 30.' "

Even soldiers stationed in the United States sometimes struggle. First Lt. Randy Jensen, 33, of Waterloo, Iowa, has spent the last two years on active duty with the 4249th Military Police Company, providing security at an ocean terminal in North Carolina that handles weapons being shipped overseas.

He manages visits with his wife, Stormy, every three or four months, but he still misses the daily events of life with daughter Payton, 2, and son Carson, 4.

``It is a strain on the family,'' he said. ``Anybody who tells you any different is probably not fully honest.''

The National Guard may be more necessary and relevant than at any other time in history, said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "When you call up the Guard, you call up America," he said. ``That's a real good thing. We intend to keep that."

But local and state governments have lost scores of police officers, firefighters and correctional officers to the call-ups. Private companies have lost highly valued employees, and community volunteer organizations are operating shorthanded because some of their members have marched off to military duty.

Chief Warrant Officer Art Witten, 58, of Ida Grove, Iowa, normally teaches high school physics, chemistry and math. After he was activated earlier this year with the Iowa National Guard's Company D of the 109th Aviation of Boone, school officials were forced to scramble to make sure that students received qualified instruction. School Superintendent Harold Post took over Witten's math class.

"At first it was a shock (to be called to service),'' said Witten, who expects to return home in February but agreed not to reclaim his job until the fall of 2004. "I am sure it was for anybody. But when you look at the scope of the call-ups, you realize that you are not being singled out. Hundreds of thousands of people have been called up. You cope with it."

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Far more than `part-timers'

How to tell the Guard from the military Reserves:

- National Guard: The Guard serves both the state and nation in times of need, and enlisted personnel in the Guard swear an oath to protect and defend not just the Constitution of the United States, but also of the state in which they serve. In peacetime, respective governors command the Guard of each state. They also provide assistance during natural disasters, state emergencies and civil unrest.

The National Guard traces its history to the earliest English colonies in North America. National Guard aviation units - some of them dating to World War I - became the Air National Guard.

- Reserves: The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all have Reserve forces with their own leadership, culture, traditions, policies, regulations and congressional appropriations. Unlike the National Guard, the Reserves are under federal control and do not serve under their respective state governors.

- Service: National Guard and Reserve members are in the "Selected Reserve." They typically attend drills one weekend per month and perform two weeks of additional training annually after an initial basic military training, school or prior military service.

- Obligation: All military personnel - active or reserve - are volunteers who have an eight-year military service obligation, which can include various combinations of active and reserve duty.

- Mobilization: The president can mobilize up to 230,000 Guard and Reserve members for 270 days without a declaration of a national emergency. And 1 million Guard and Reserve members can be called for up to two years under a partial mobilization, which requires declaration of a national emergency. All Guard and Reserve members can be activated upon a declaration of war or a national emergency by Congress; they can stay mobilized for the duration of a war or emergency, plus six months.

- People: There are 1.2 million members of National Guard and Reserve components.