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Military Reservists Face Disruption in Wartime - 2003-02-12


More than 111,000 military reservists around the United States have been plucked out of their civilian lives and called-up to active duty, in support of the U.S. military's mobilization for a possible war against Iraq. The toughest personal sacrifices for each reservist include leaving families and friends behind.

Sergeant Major Betsey DePoint left her home in Minnesota and her job as a public relations manager for a non-profit agency. She has been at an army training center in Ft. Benning, Georgia, for more than one month.

Sergeant DePoint says the task of scrambling to prepare for her one year assignment has been hurry up and wait. "I only had about 10 days notice," she said, "and it happened right before Christmas, so my first consideration was making sure we had the holidays as normal as we could."

Sergeant DePoint, 48, says this is by far the longest deployment she has had in 26 years of Army Reserve service. She says the hardest thing for her will be missing important milestones in the lives of two of her four children.

"My youngest son is going to be graduating from high school this June, so I will be missing all of that," she said. "And he is going to be captain of the track team this spring, so I will not be in the stands cheering him on for that. My oldest son is actually getting married this summer."

Family members also are the focus of attention for another reservist in the same unit. Captain William Ritter, 34, from Pennsylvania, says his biggest concern is not the possibility of exposure to chemical weapons in the Middle East, but missing out on the early life of his 28-month-old daughter, Clarice.

"I really wanted to do a deployment before my daughter got too old to miss me too much, when I come back. And we will be pretty much able to pick up where I left off and she will not have a whole great deal of recollection about the time that I was away," said Capt. Ritter. "And as she gets older, it is going to get more and more difficult to do that."

The threat of exposure to toxic biological or chemical agents and possible adverse side effects from inoculations against anthrax have made sterility an issue among male soldiers. Captain Ritter says he is not concerned because he already has a child.

"It might have entered my mind a bit if we [he and his wife] had not already started a family, but being as we had and we were not at a place in our relationship where we wanted a larger family, it wasn't a major concern of mine," he said.

The issue of offspring was just one among many for 27-year-old Specialist James Oleen, an unmarried university student from Maryland. He says he hopes nothing will affect his ability to have children in the future.

Meanwhile, Specialist Oleen says his girlfriend has been active in anti-war protests - something he has mixed feelings about. "It is very nice to know that somebody wants to bring us back home, but I would rather not have her go out there and protest the war so much, where people end up not supporting the soldiers, or supporting the cause," said Specialist Oleen.

As for demonstrations against a possible war with Iraq, Sergeant Major DePoint says she feels U.S. soldiers are actually defending the right of all Americans to publicly express their opinions either for or against the war.

"We feel very strongly about maintaining, not only our homeland security, but peace in other parts of the world, and are willing to do what it takes to help maintain that peace," she said. "And I also, I just wish that other people would consider all aspects and ramifications of what could happen if these terrorists and subversions were not taken care of."

None of the soldiers in the 33-member unit knew where they were going or when they would get the order to ship out. Captain Ritter said he would gladly give all he can. He added that if he only loses time away from his family, then to him, it would be a small sacrifice.