One Weekend a Month, until....then it's your job, marriage and home
So far, 40 reservists and National Guardsmen have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the most in any conflict since Vietnam, military experts say, though the Pentagon could not confirm that. The victims have included engineers, law enforcement officers and college students. One was the grandfather of seven. They have died of hostile fire, a mysterious respiratory ailment, heat and heart attacks. One was killed by a pistol-wielding assassin, another by a fellow GI's hand grenade.
As the occupation continues, so will the deaths, military experts predict.
It is clearly more than most of these men and women bargained for when they agreed to drill one weekend a month and two weeks each summer in exchange for a little extra retirement pay or money for college.
They were once called ``weekend warriors,'' a phrase that now sounds almost quaint.
Many reservists are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, leaving behind children, businesses and homes under construction. More than half of all reservists are married, and 37 percent have children. The rigors of fighting wars and keeping peace have been physically punishing -- even lethal.
Some reservists ``are saying `Hey, this is not what I signed up for,''' said Jeffrey C. Crowe, chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a member of a high-level task force looking into issues such as frequency of call-ups and the unpredictability of deployments. ``Unless we address these issues, retention rates are going to go down.''
For the first time in more than a decade, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves may fail to achieve recruiting goals, the Defense Department confirmed. The National Guard and Army Reserve were lagging behind recruiting goals by 6,000 and 700, respectively, in recent months. And some National Guard leaders predict that as many as 60 percent of the Guardsmen mobilized today will leave the service at the first opportunity.
``They did not sign up to patrol a perimeter,'' said Jay Spiegel, past president of the Reserve Officers Association. ``They enlisted to drive tanks and shoot artillery.''
Mark O'Neal ended his 26-year Coast Guard career last year after rumors swirled that his Fort Eustis-based reserve unit would be called to duty for the third time in two years. The rumors were right. The call-up came for the war in Iraq.
O'Neal, 44, was a senior chief petty officer and medical corpsman with the Coast Guard's Port Security Unit 305, a team of boat drivers who secure ports and waterways at home and around the world.
While living in tents, his unit helped protect New York City's harbor after the attack on the World Trade Center two years ago. They were called to duty again when prisoners were transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
``A good 30 percent of the unit got out after Cuba,'' O'Neal said. ``There were a lot of people jumping ship, so to speak.'' The back-to-back deployments ``broke the cohesion of the unit. It affected morale.''
O'Neal said after they returned from Gitmo, members of his unit were promised there would be no more activations for 18 months. But when the reactivation rumors began, he applied for, and received, a hardship discharge. He feared another deployment could cause him to lose the business he owns in Lancaster, Pa.
``If they would say you have two years on and then off for two years, that would even be OK,'' O'Neal said. ``But when you put everything on hold and you don't know what's coming next, well, that's a problem
The reductions of the Army and the emphasis on the Revolution in Military Affairs is destroying the Reserve system. The Abrams reserve/active mix system was designed to deal with a land war in Europe. It wasn't designed for these constant deployments in different theaters. These units are not designed to run around the world, deployment after deployment. They are cracking under the strain. People are losing their homes, jobs and families behind these constant deployments.
Iraq is eating the Army alive, day by day.
posted by Steve @ 7:57:00 PM