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Reserve Callup Affects Heartland - 2002-03-28

Since the events of September 11, almost 35,000 members of the U.S. reserve forces have left their regular jobs and donned military uniforms, called to active duty as part of President Bush's war on terrorism.

Some of these citizen soldiers have remained in the United States, enhancing the security forces in airports and at military bases. Others were sent overseas. All of them left voids that communities are struggling to fill.

As a member of America's reserve forces, Andrew Wise served one weekend a month and two weeks a year, training with the Missouri Air National Guard. Most of his life, however, was spent as a typical college student at Central Missouri State University. That is, until one day in September.

"Both my roommates were on my front deck," he said, "just standing there. I knew that was trouble because they usually don't wait for me outside. And they just told me, your guard unit called and they're doing a recall. And I knew what that meant right away. I called in and they're just like, you've been activated, and have to be in here at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning, with all your gear and be ready to be deployed."

A few weeks after trading the comforts of the classroom for combat boots, the aviation major found himself guarding a U.S. Air Force installation in Saudi Arabia. He dropped out of school, and put his future on hold in order to serve.

Of course, not all part-time soldiers have lives as flexible as that of a college student. Those being deployed are told to prepare their families for extended separation, and to get their affairs in order before they report for duty.

And it's not just families that have to adjust. In the wake of this call to service, entire communities are trying to bridge the gaps left by mothers, fathers, and workers called to serve.

At the high school in the town of Lansing, Kansas, students rush through the hallways on the Friday before spring break. Underneath a sign advertising tickets to the spring prom dance, members of the Lansing High School wrestling team huddle with the school's athletic director.

These student-athletes lost their wrestling coach to the National Guard call-up, just before a big season tournament.

It came as a shock to junior Marcus Waters. "He came in to practice one day and kind of gave us the heads up, that they were talking about deploying him. And it was the day before one of our tournaments he came in and said he found out for sure. This is our second tournament of the year, and he's telling us that he had to leave and go overseas. We were all kind of astonished," he said.

The students don't know specifically where Coach Monte Sheets is serving, but he still keeps in contact with them. He called his wrestlers during his initial deployment to Fort Stewart, Georgia. Now, he sends the kids cards from somewhere in Germany. The wrestlers at Lansing High School were fortunate that a coach who teaches at a nearby middle school was able to take over their team.

The police department in the old frontier town of Saint Joseph, Missouri, wasn't as lucky. "We really don't have the extra people. We don't have the same options open to us that the much larger departments do," said Police Chief Mike Hirter.

He supports his officers serving in the National Guard, but that backing comes at a price. So far the department has lost five officers to the call-up, and five more could leave at any moment. The deployments have forced the chief to shuffle his staff around like puzzle pieces. A few officers who once sat behind desks are now back in squad cars on patrol.

And even though Chief Hirter said his department seems to be getting the job done, some duties are being pushed aside for the moment. "The detective division - their case load is high," he said. "And taking people away from there, you know, what that amounts to is cases may not get investigated as quick as we would like to do it or as quick as the victims of the crime would like to see it done."

Chief Hirter said he may try to hire temporary replacement officers to fill in any additional vacancies created by deployments. "This is not the ideal situation," he said, "but then again, these aren't ideal circumstances here."

Federal law says employers have to allow reservists to return to their jobs once they come back from deployment. But Chief Hirter said it's unlikely he'll find officers looking for temporary work, who'll be willing to quit once the reservists return from military service.

There are reserve and National Guard forces in some 2,700 communities across the United States - towns like Lansing, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri, where residents are trying to make ends meet until life returns to normal.