Call-up is a fact of life for reservists, Guard
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tacoma optometrist Terry Clark got the word last Wednesday: At the age of 53, he had been tapped for active Army duty, along with the 80 other members of a Washington reserve medical unit that he commands.
Clark and his unit will be sent to an Army base east of the Rockies to check the fitness of other reservists swept up by the Bush administration as it mobilizes for a possible war with Iraq that could come as early as February.
"We will take care of other reserve units to help make sure that they are OK, and help them get ready to go," said Clark.
Clark's unit is scheduled to report to duty Friday, a sign of the quickening pace of a mobilization that now has put on active duty more than 57,000 members of the reserves and National Guard from around the country, including about 720 from Washington state.
The Washington numbers don't yet equal the more than 2,000 state reservists and Air and Army National Guard members activated during the 1991 Gulf War. But in the weeks ahead, hundreds more Washington reservists are expected to be pulled from their jobs and families to join the active ranks.
"The Army likes to give at least a few weeks' notice," said Pam Garrison, a public information officer for the 70th Regional Support Command, which is based at Fort Lawton in Seattle. "But it's been as short as three days."
In post-Sept. 11 America, the movements of these newly activated soldiers are not publicly disclosed. Pentagon and local officials won't give details of where any of the units will be stationed or what they will be doing.
"There's been a general resurgence of operational security because of so many unknowns," said Col. Rick Patterson of the Washington Army National Guard.
So far, most of the military forces now being positioned in the Gulf have been drawn from the ranks of active-duty Army and Marine bases in Southern states and California. But at least some forces from Washington bases also are expected to be involved. They include Whidbey Island Naval Air Station squadrons of EA-6B Prowler jets that jam hostile radar on bombing raids, and some of the Navy ships homeported at Bremerton and Everett.
Some Washington reservists could also end up participating in an invasion or occupation of Iraq, as well as in ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. Several small Washington units called to duty are involved in intelligence, mobile undersea warfare and explosive-ordnance disposal. The current active-duty list also includes a few members of an Army Guard Special Forces unit that is based in Buckley, Pierce County.
But most of the Washington Reserve and Guard units are in support roles. They will help guard military bases, move cargo, provide weather reports and — in the case of one "historian" unit — help chronicle the battlefield action.
Many of these reservists are professionals in midcareer. Clark works at Group Health Cooperative in Tacoma, and hasn't served an extended tour of active duty for more than two decades. He's rushing to find colleagues to cover his clinical duties as his military career shifts from a weekend each month and a few weeks of annual training to a full-time commitment as an Army colonel.
Clark's unit includes dentists, nurses, laboratory technicians and other medical professionals. Clark has been with the unit since it was formed in 1996, but this is the first time it has been fully activated.
"I have mixed feelings about this," Clark said. "But I did stay in the service so I could participate if needed, and I've certainly developed a lot of skills since the last time I was on active duty."
Clark is married and has two grown daughters. Others in the unit, with younger families, face more difficult family situations.
Angela Price-Aman is a 32-year-old dental assistant, with five children ages 2 to 9. She went from the Army into the reserves a year ago, and has been taking college classes in law enforcement. Her husband remains an active-duty soldier at Fort Lewis.
Price-Aman will put her schooling on hold and send the children to live with their grandparents in North Carolina while she joins the medical unit.
Despite the upheaval, Price-Aman says she is excited about being called up. "We've been a military family for a long time, and we just do what we have to do."
If any Washington reservists are involved in ground combat in a possible invasion of Iraq, they will probably come from the ranks of the 5,800-member Army National Guard. Under a Defense Department policy change that took effect in 1995, the Guard assumed primary responsibility for combat services, while the Army Reserve took on a primary mission of support services.
Guard units serve under the command of the governor and are sometimes called to help during fires, floods and other natural disasters.
But the Guard also responds in times of war. Maj. Jonathan Davenport, who helps to coordinate call-ups, served in the 1991 Gulf War, suffering a wound to his foot from a mortar round that exploded while U.S. troops pressed into Iraq.
"I've been there — I've seen that and don't have any great desire to go back," Davenport said. "But if they put me there leading troops, I would go back in a heartbeat."
Washington's Guard units have plenty of firepower: More than 80 tanks are scattered about the state, and put into action in training exercises. But no one expects they will be used in any invasion of Iraq. The difficulties in positioning tanks are one reason the Army is struggling to transform itself with a new generation of more mobile brigades.
"They weigh more than 59 tons empty, so it would be a major undertaking," said Patterson, of the Army Guard.
But another combat element of the Washington Army Guard unit is in demand: the 86-member Special Forces unit based out of the Buckley armory. In Afghanistan and other theaters, the Pentagon has increasingly turned to special forces, who have the skills to operate in small units in remote locations on often-secretive missions.
The Buckley unit members are what are popularly known as Green Berets. They have special skills in communications, combat, engineering or medicine. They are prepared to fight but also trained to work with civilian populations.
The unit members have weekday jobs that include computer programming, police work and firefighting. About half the members of the unit served in the Army as members of the Special Forces. The other half had no active-duty experience, and underwent extensive training, including a year at a Special Forces school at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Six members of the unit are now on active duty. Their whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed.
As for the other 80, they're now somewhere in Asia on an extended overseas training mission. It began before Christmas, and their mission could be changed to active duty at any time.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Mayo contributed to this story. He can be reached at email@example.com