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Guard, Reserve airmen testify about effects of mobilization

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress turned to a panel of noncommissioned officers April 3 to determine the price military reservists are paying to help defend the nation.

Two members of the Air National Guard and an Air Force reservist were on the multi-service panel that told members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on total force about the pros and cons of their experiences with lengthy, and sometimes frequent, mobilizations to active duty.

On the plus side, the noncommissioned officers mentioned patriotism and commitment. On the other hand, frequent mobilizations have caused family and financial troubles. In some cases, they said, employers have begun to pressure Guard and Reserve airmen to "reconsider" their military service.

"This is my second activation in three years," said Master Sgt. Paul Needham, from the Arkansas ANG's 123rd Intelligence Squadron. "My mobilization experiences show an increased, continual reliance on the Guard and Reserve to help the active force fulfill their full-time mission."

Needham, an imagery analyst serving full time with the 30th Intelligence Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va., testified that guardsmen from his unit make up half of the 30th's imagery mission supervisors. Despite their equal footing in terms of job status, financial inequities between the guardsmen and their active-duty counterparts can cost the "part-timers" as much as $9,000 per year.

According to Needham, while guardsmen are paid per diem to cover their food and lodging expenses while on active duty, that per diem stops when they take leave.

"Currently under the law, we are not allowed to receive per diem while on leave, and it's put a great strain on several members," he said. "These members not only face the separation (from their families) of two years, but the possibility that they have incurred a debt between $6,000 to $9,000, depending on how much leave they've taken while on active duty."

Needham also told the lawmakers that, while the civilian employers of most airmen in his unit have been positive, he has heard some troubling reports.

"Some (civilian employers) have paid the difference in salaries between the military and civilian salaries, and others have allowed the members to serve unconditionally. However," he said, "there have been several employers who have asked their employees to reconsider their service with the Guard or Reserve when they come home.

"They have not asked them to separate, but they have asked them to reconsider," he said.

Staff Sgt. Johnathan Stallings, from the North Carolina ANG's 145th Services Squadron, reported that family-service programs are vital to activated airmen.

Because many Guard and Reserve airmen live far from their bases, oftentimes they do not have access to family support centers.

"There are family-support programs available, and pre-deployment packages," he said, "but the ability to use those (programs) is very slim for people who live three hours from the base."

For Master Sgt. Kevin R. Smith, a reservist with the 434th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., it was the no-notice call to active duty that affected him most.

"I was given less than 18 hours to report for duty," he said. "That meant I was unable to assist in finding someone to take over my responsibilities at my civilian job."

The number of deployments, short notice or otherwise, may eventually have an impact on total force retention, the NCOs said.

"Folks from my unit have discussed separating because of mobilization. In three years, we've been activated twice," Needham said.

The expense of deployments, both financially and in terms of overall stress, have airmen of Stallings' unit talking of separation and retirement.

"I believe their hearts are telling them to stay, but ... they've been losing money, or through indirect stress, they feel the need to concentrate more on their (civilian) career versus (the) military," he said.

Still, Stallings and the other NCOs on the panel said patriotism and pride in doing the jobs they were trained for would keep them, and others, in the ranks of the total force.

"I'm a national guardsman; I always will be," Stallings said. "I will be proud to serve if called upon again."

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