- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

ATLANTA — In a few months, Cmdr. Jo Anne Moeller of Atlanta will slip into a desert camouflage uniform, shoulder her sea bag and ship out to the Middle East for a yearlong tour as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer.

At a time when the military has come to rely as never before on its reserve forces, Cmdr. Moeller’s call-up for her first extended deployment overseas is not unusual. Neither is the fact that she has two members of her immediate family already serving.

What is unusual is that she is 57 and those two family members are her children.

The military doesn’t track deploying service members by age, but Cmdr. Moeller certainly is one of the oldest female service members deployed to the Middle East for the war on terrorism.

“I’m just flattered that people still think I am capable and can contribute,” Cmdr. Moeller said.

Most reservists can be deployed until age 60, although doctors can deploy until 64, said Lt. j.g. Brian Wierzbicki, spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command. Several male National Guard members and reservists older than 55 have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although some women in their 60s and 70s employed by civilian contractors or the Defense Department have volunteered for overseas duty, anecdotal information suggests only a few female service members in their late 50s have deployed.

“At 57, there are so many people thinking of retirement. I’m not ready to retire,” Cmdr. Moeller said.

In her job, Cmdr. Moeller will be responsible for analyzing information about enemy threats and sending it to other analysts and agencies for appropriate action.

“I’m really anticipating it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to this new experience. Maybe I’ll pick up some Arabic while I’m over there.”

In fact, Cmdr. Moeller could have opted for retirement rather than accepting the overseas assignment. But she is going, partly out of a sense of obligation to the Navy and her country.

“There is a patriotism component to this,” she said. “To me, it’s a matter of being there and helping support the lifestyle I enjoyed and the benefits I’ve had.”

Cmdr. Moeller has put up her condominium for sale and moved back to her native Chicago last week in anticipation of reporting for duty in a few weeks.

The daughter of a Navy veteran of World War II, Cmdr. Moeller joined the Navy Reserves shortly before her 36th birthday. She said she joined in part because of her father’s experience, to do something different and because she wanted to serve her country. During her 21-year military career, she has served two-week summer training stints at embassies in Canada and France but has never been deployed to a war zone.

After her husband died three years ago, Cmdr. Moeller moved to Atlanta and began working in the human resources department of SunTrust Bank.

When the word came down late last month, she waited until the first weekend in June to tell her children, both of whom are serving: son Paul Jr., 22, and daughter Leslie, 23.

That was the weekend Leslie, a foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department, left for Saudi Arabia and shortly after Paul became an Army second lieutenant specializing in transportation. He is likely to head soon to Afghanistan.

“When I told them, they were like, ‘Wow, Mom, this is cool,’” Cmdr. Moeller said. “It was kind of positive because it was a bonding experience for us as a family.”

Cmdr. Moeller said she is not sure where her orders will take her. It could be Iraq, or it could be Bahrain or Qatar, both countries where the Navy has a large presence. As a mother, she said, she will worry as much about the safety of her two children as she will about her own well-being while overseas.

“I think everyone was shocked when we heard it,” her son, Lt. Moeller, said by telephone from Fort Eustis, Va., where he is in training. “There’s a great sense of unity about this because it’s the first time the whole family has been committed to something like this.”

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