- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Since the Vietnam era, our military has become an all-volunteer, highly professional force. But during the last decade, the size of the professional force has been reduced significantly, causing greater reliance on the reserves. Those citizen-soldiers have been called upon to make a much greater than usual commitment since last September. It is time for Congress to lessen the burden they are bearing.
After September 11, in what the president called a "partial mobilization," tens of thousands of reservists were called up. They were to help fight the coming war, and to take on other, less conventional duties such as standing guard at many airports. About 85,000 reservists were on active duty in June. Now, almost a year after September 11, about 75,000 of them are still on active duty and many are being told that they will be held on active duty for at least another year. Some of the most critical personnel shortages are in the Air Force. According to one report, at least 14,000 Air Force and Air National Guard members were told that their active-duty terms would be extended for another year.
Since the 1980s, the reserve forces were built around the idea that active service for their members would be relatively short. "Extended active duty" as it is called, was for the regulars. Reservists planned their lives and their careers on that basis. They are anxious to serve, but still need to be able to make a living outside of their service life. The law protects servicemens' jobs, but employers also have to keep their businesses running. The reservist who runs his own business particularly a small business like a restaurant or a retail store largely relies on his own goodwill and skills to keep his customers coming back. That's awfully hard to do when you're away from the business for a year or two.
Reservists know that serving could require them to remain on active duty through a crisis, and that there were no guarantees of only short crises during their tenure. But that is no reason for the government to ignore the strains on their lives and livelihoods this new kind of war causes. There are many options Congress should consider. Perhaps those servicemen and women held on active duty beyond a year should get the equivalent of a re-enlistment bonus. Government business insurance may be desirable for some business owners kept away for long periods. And there are numerous other ideas. Congress should take a hard look at this issue as soon as it returns, and act quickly to relieve some of the strain on the non-careerists who have voluntarily left their normal lives to help fight for us all. None of this should in any way obscure or diminish the obligation our nation has to the regulars. Their needs are different, and their sacrifices for our nation as great or greater. Meeting our obligation to them is something we shall discuss more than once in the coming months.


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