The all-volunteer U.S. military is supplemented by Reserve personnel and National Guard units. Over 175,000 Reserve and National Guard personnel have been called up for active duty as the U.S. prepares for possible war with Iraq. In the National Guard, civilians, after their initial training keep up their skills by exercises one weekend a month and two weeks a year. They are, in essence, on stand-by--ready if called to action.
One National Guard unit recently called up for duty is headquartered in Maryland. The men and women who got that call now have to leave their civilian lives and their families to prepare for a possible war.
For most of their lives they are civilians.
But when they joined the National Guard, these men and women trained to assist their state in times of emergency such as natural disasters...and their country in times of war and homeland defense.
The 1229 National Guard unit from the state of Maryland is made up of trained truck drivers, mechanics, cooks and others whose primary mission is to transport equipment and supplies to the front line. They leave on this day to train at a U.S. military installation before being given their assignment either overseas or in homeland defense. Their families attend the send-off ceremony. Most had a month to prepare to leave, others a week.
“I got married last Thursday and I got activated that same day,” said one soldier. They leave behind not just family, but their civilian jobs. By law they are guaranteed the job will be there when they return, at the same pay and benefits.
One member of the unit known as T.J. works for a brokerage firm in client services; a desk job, she says with lots of phone calls. “But in my National Guard job I drive trucks and its fun, its exciting . I like the camaraderie. I love the camaraderie. I am ready to do this mission, complete it and come home,” she said.
Home and family are the toughest things to leave behind. “This is my grandmother. She had a hand in raising me. Every grandmother does though really I think,” said Nicholas, who kissed her goodbye at the ceremony.
“This is one of my babies,“ she said.
“I support this effort 100 percent. I kind of hate to see my son go, but I think it’s the thing he has to do. I went for Korea, it’s a thing that has to be done,” said the father of one soldier.
Some National Guard soldiers here are veterans of the Desert Storm operation in the Gulf over a decade ago.
“My daughter, she was only about five years old when I left the first time. She’s 16 now. And my son is ten and we had my son shortly after I came back the first time. So this is his first time going through it,” said the Gulf war veretan.
So as the rain fell, the convoy began to roll out.
A young man leaves his new wife, a family wants one more goodbye to remember a soldier until he returns. Because no one knows just when that will be.