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US Military Reservists Answer the Call of Duty

Hundreds of thousands of American men and women -- from all walks of life -- serve in the U.S. military reserves and National Guard. Although not full-time soldiers, reservists and guard members are trained for action and many serve overseas. But as VOA's Sean Maroney reports, some of these part-time soldiers return home to very uncertain futures.

It is every soldier's dream -- after spending months away from home -- to return safe and sound to family and friends. But for some soldiers, the homecoming is not so joyful.

Debra Muhl is a wife, mother and nurse in civilian life. But as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, she had to leave all that behind for 11 months in Iraq.

When Muhl told her boss in December 2005 that she had to return for a second tour of duty, she says he had other plans. "He said to me, 'Well, you had news for me on Tuesday. Now, I have news for you today. I've decided to eliminate your position.' "

Muhl is currently suing her employer, Sutter Health. She claims the health care services provider violated federal law. The company disagrees.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao explains the law in a video to the country's part-time soldiers. "As a member of the Guard or Reserve on active duty, you left behind your job to answer your country's call... When you come home from your mission, a law called USERRA guarantees that the job you left behind will be waiting for you," she says in the video.

The U.S. Defense Department says reserve components make up 19 percent of American military personnel in Iraq and 28 percent in Afghanistan. The Labor Department tells VOA that the last comparable mobilization of the reserves and Guard was the first Gulf War.

Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act in 1994. At that time, one in 55 troops claimed their employers violated the law. The Labor Department says the average now is one in 95.

The law requires employers to offer the same job or a better one when a reservist returns from active duty.

But in Muhl's case, Sutter Health says the law does not apply. The company claims it was going to cut Muhl's position to save costs even before she asked for military leave. Now after more than 30 years in the Air Force, Muhl is heading to federal court to fight a battle -- this time at home.