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National Guard, reservists playing larger role in U.S. military

ST. PAUL, Minn.—As the nation's military builds toward a possible war with Iraq, it is relying on the garbage man from Minnesota, the boxing club owner in Indiana and the public relations executive in Silicon Valley.

The Pentagon announced last week that another 16,979 National Guard members and military reservists were ordered to report for duty, bringing to 111,603 the number of Guard and reserve soldiers who have been activated. That number could more than double in the coming months if there is war.

These men and women will walk away from their lifestyles, jobs and families. Left behind are spouses who must raise families on their own and businesses that must find ways to replace their workers.

"I always tell soldiers in my unit that it's really never a matter of if you get deployed, it's a matter of when," said 39-year-old Matt Beevers, a public relations executive in California's Silicon Valley who is a lieutenant colonel in the California Army National Guard.

Beevers' Fairfield-based unit was ordered to report for active duty two days before Christmas. His employer rushed to notify his clients and reassign his accounts to others at Pacifico Integrated Marketing Communications in San Jose, Calif.

"Matt is a senior-level guy," said Pacifico CEO Mary Curtis. She couldn't quantify what Beevers' temporary loss might cost her company, but "We really had to scramble" three years ago when he was called to serve in Bosnia for nine months.

Curtis said she would hire a temporary worker to pick up some of Beevers' work.

For years, the National Guard and reserve forces were dismissed as "weekend warriors." Many, attracted by the supplemental income as well as by college tuition breaks in exchange for a few weekends away in training, served in support roles when activated, which didn't happen very often.

"I went 18 years as a member of the Air National Guard without being activated," recalled Minnesota's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Eugene Andreotti.

But now, Andreotti noted, it's not uncommon for some members under his command to serve as many as 100 days a year on active duty, a trend that illustrates what has happened to U.S. military staffing since the Cold War ended.

With the number of active-duty American soldiers dropping 36 percent, to 1.4 million, after the Cold War, the nation's 1.3 million reservists and Guard members make up nearly half the military's forces. That has meant a greater reliance on the reserves in periods of crisis. Cumulative days on active duty served by reserve and Guard members have risen from 1 million a year at the end of the Cold War to 30 million last year, according to Craig Duehring, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

That has had a significant impact on businesses and families.

"You've got businesses being told that everybody needs to support, everybody needs to make sacrifices. But there is no definitive end in sight," said Kim Dougherty, the vice president for national security affairs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Business planning becomes even harder to get your arms around."

Businesses are bombarded from both sides, she said, from a slow economy hurting revenue to the impact of losing workers for long periods.

By law, employers are required to hold Guard and reserve members' jobs for them. A few companies even continue to pay a portion of salaries to make up for the shortcomings of military pay, as well as continuing medical benefits for the families.

It can get expensive. Guidant Corp., a Minnesota medical-device manufacturer, estimates that it has spent $250,000 for replacement workers and benefits for six employees nationwide who have been active for military duty since Sept. 11, 2001, said Diane R. Baardson, the manager of employee benefits for the company's St. Paul operation.

That burden is something the Pentagon is trying to address.

"If we want to have a total work force and we want that concept to work, we've got to be respectful of the fact that people in the reserves and the Guard have jobs," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a recent gathering of reserve and Guard members.

For one Minnesota family, the call to duty is a much more personal matter.

Sgt. Bryan Robin, a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard, drives a garbage truck for BFI Waste Services. One night, he got a phone call telling him to report for duty in less than 48 hours. It was his first call-up in the 18 years he had been a Guard member.

Stacey, his wife of 20 years, was left behind. Robin, 41, will miss his son Joseph's second birthday this month as he operates bulldozers somewhere in Southwest Asia—all his commanders were willing to say.

Stacey Robin has put up the American flag next to the front door of their home in Elk River, Minn. She promises not to take it down until he comes home.

Beevers' and Robin's jobs will wait for them until they get back from duty. For members who own their own businesses, though, there is no such guarantee.

JoJo Rashawans, 51, a member of the Indiana National Guard, owns the Fighting Champs Boxing Club in Fort Wayne to supplement his income from a steel company job.

Rashawans worries about what will become of his club if he is called to war.

He'll leave it the hands of his employees. "Hopefully, they will continue the business," he said.

The idea of military reserves dates to the beginning of the country. During the American Revolution, the small regular army was augmented by militia or civilian volunteers, some of whom went home after only one battle.

The Guard and military reserves have played active parts in all major U.S. wars, said William Taylor, a retired Army colonel who's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research center in Washington.

"This country needs them," Taylor said.


(The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., and the San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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