WRNI – The number of national guardsmen and reserves being called up to fight a possible war with Iraq is swelling. Hundreds of them so far come from Rhode Island. The Department of Defense is considering a change in policy that would ease its reliance on reserve units. While some say the move will insure that reservists continue to re-enlist, others are doubtful the switch can happen without increasing the size of the military and its budget.
It's becoming a familiar scene at Quonset Point in North Kingstown. Uniformed men and women saluting and waving goodbye in the early hours of the morning, as they deploy to assignments in Southwest Asia.
Typically, soldiers going off to duty are what are called active-duty forces, or full-time soldiers who number well over 1-million nationwide. Increasingly, more of them are from national guard and reserve units --citizen soldiers who hold civilian jobs and serve on the weekends.
As of this week, some 111,000 reserves have been called to duty nationwide. Roughly 500 of them come from Rhode Island. Several thousand are still waiting to hear.
Warwick resident Judy Janetta is one who's waiting. She has served in the Air National Guard for seventeen years. For the time being, she is still working at her regular job as a psychologist's assistant and taking classes toward a master's degree.
"It's nerve-wracking. But I plan. If I go next week, I have somebody to pay my bills, I have somebody to lined up to watch the kids. I'll think they'll be okay, though, initially. And then it's 'Mom, when you going to come home?' and that's when it gets hard," said Janetta.
Janetta's father, two uncles, and a brother are also in the reserves. She says she knew what she was getting into when she joined. She felt is was something she had to do,
"I'd rather do this now, than ten years from now again and have my son be the one going. So if I can take care of it now and they can have a safer world in ten years, then I'm doing what I signed up to do."
Janetta provides ground support for Air National Guard flight
missions. It's the type of skill that may be in increasing demand in the coming months. If that's the case, and she is called to multiple missions away from home, Janetta says her resolve may wane when it comes time to re-enlist.
That's the problem in the reserve community now, officials say. It's not that too many reservists are being called up - only one-tenth of the reserve force has gone to duty. But there simply aren't enough reservists with certain skills, such as security and engineering.
Thomas Hall is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. He says the varied responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks have meant more pressure on the reserves.
"No one really anticipated that kind of swift attack. And suddenly, the enemy was at the doorsteps. And it caused us to rethink our strategy and to ask ourselves: Are we currently structured the right way? Do we have too many forces in the reserve? Do we have too many in the active duty? Do we need to shift some missions?" Hall asks.
The answer is yes, according to a recent review completed by Hall's office and backed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The Defense Department is considering reducing the number of reserve positions and creating more full-time, active duty jobs.
Jay Spiegel, executive director of the Reserve Officers
Association,says any new plan will need considerable political and budgetary will behind it.
"An active duty person is anywhere from four to seven times more expensive than a part-time guardsman or reservist. And with the exploding budget deficit and the desire for tax cuts, and other domestic priorities, I don't believe you'll see any movement toward increasing the size of the active duty," he said.
After the U.S. war in Vietnam, the military decided to integrate more reserves into its fighting forces. The thinking was that using civilian soldiers requires support from the American public at the outset of a conflict. And, it also shows enemies that you're serious.
Some two hundred thousand reservists were called up for the Persian Gulf War in 1991. But that was to fight a more certain battle, says John Allen Williams, a political science professor at Loyola University Chicago and retired Naval Reserve Captain. He questions whether the current reserve call-up was premature.
"We've surrounded Iraq, and we'll surround them more with large percentage of reserve forces. And the forces are all leaning forward, and they can not lean forward indefinitely. Especially with reserve forces, you either have to use them or you have to send them home," Williams said.
The Defense Department says the first division it hopes to
restructure is the Army Reserves, which has the highest number of reservists. But officials say it could be a year before sweeping changes are made -- and that they won't come easy.