Reservists Ready for Bosnia Duty
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
FORT DIX, N.J., Jan. 5, 1996 When Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Michael Hummel told his family he'd been called up for the peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, his 6-year-old son Matthew was devastated -- but not because his father was going away.
"Don't stay away too long in the Army because I don't want to do the dishes with Mom," young Hummel lamented. The youngster's sentiments typify responses National Guardsmen and Army reservists received.
As he signed paperwork for a new military identification card at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Dix, N.J., Hummel said, "I've been in the service for 20 years and I figured it's about time I did something for what I get paid to do. They called me up, so I have to go."
Hummel was among hundreds of reserve component personnel going through administrative processing, soldier skill training and specialized refresher courses at Fort Dix. Hundreds more are doing the same at Fort Benning, Ga. Some Air National Guardsmen and naval reservists are also training at Fort Benning, the first-ever reserve component joint mobilization training effort. Some of those called up will serve in the former Yugoslavia, but most will fill positions of active duty troops stationed in Germany who went to Bosnia.
About 3,800 reserve component personnel have been called up under presidential authority. They will join their active duty counterparts, who, combined, total about a third of NATO's 60,000- member force. Many reservists will be on active duty for up to 270 days.
Reserve component troop functions include civil affairs, psychological operations, public affairs, engineering, logistics, military police and medical. Personnel with these specialties were processed and trained at Dix and Benning. More than 130 chaplains and enlisted assistants completed an orientation course at Fort Belvoir, Va., before heading for the former Yugoslavia in early January.
In addition to ensuring troop readiness for the Bosnian mission, DoD officials are emphasizing family readiness.
"Our main concern here at the readiness center is to ensure all the troops have family care plans, which applies mainly to single soldiers who have minor children under the age of 19," said Mary Taylor, a member of the Dix Army Emergency Relief Family Assistance Center. "We want to make sure children are properly cared for while the soldiers are deployed."
Taylor said before soldiers are allowed to deploy, they must have plans for someone to take care of their children, including guardianship papers and powers of attorney.
"There's a checklist that the soldiers and commanders go over together to make sure everything has been done and the regulation has been followed," Taylor said. "We've had a couple no goes. There are a lot of things we can do here if they don't have everything, such as using express mail for guardianship papers. But they have to have a family care plan before they leave."
All soldiers were required to have physical and dental examinations and updated inoculations. Their administrative paperwork also must be checked before deployment.
"Most soldiers took care of business before leaving their home station," Taylor added.
But being called to active duty for nine months creates some hardships for the soldiers. "Being away from 270 days will be a little hard on my wife, Christine, because she works, too, and now she has the kids there by herself," said Hummel, who served on active duty from 1975 to 1978 with the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, in Baumholder, Germany. "I'm especially going to miss my little girl growing up, learning to talk.
"My wife understands that I was called to duty and it's time to go," he said. "We also believe we should have troops over there to make sure the war stops."
1st Lt. Nancy A. Kelly, a postal platoon leader with the 23rd Postal Company in Pittsburgh, left four children and her police officer husband behind. "I have a teen-age son, two teen-age stepdaughters and a 5-month-old daughter," Kelly said. "My husband wasn't thrilled about me going away, but he was in the reserves, so he understands. He just wishes it was someone other than me going. My son, 15, isn't sure about his mother leaving him.
"I know my son is upset, but all he says is, 'There's nothing I can do about it -- nothing anyone can do about it,'" she said. "His feeling is, you can't fight it, you can't change it, I can't keep you here.'
"I have a big family, and they'll take care of him," said the former enlisted woman.
"Right now we're scheduled to go into Germany, which is a little easier to deal with than going to Bosnia," said Kelly, who joined the Army in 1978 and spent three years on active duty and five years as an active duty reservist. "The troops have to have their mail. That's a big morale thing. I was on active duty, and I know what it's like not to receive mail, especially during holidays and during cold, winter days."
Being called to active duty was a godsend for Spc. Kin Kun. After his restaurant business failed, the Korean-born soldier, now a U.S. citizen, went back to school.
"In my case, this is the right time to go overseas," said Kun, who spent three years on active duty. "I just finished school and didn't have a job. So I don't have any complaints."
A member of the 329th Postal Company from Fort Snelling, Minn., Kun has three children ages 3, 5, and 10. "I don't think my wife or kids took it seriously when I told them I was going overseas until the day I left," said Kun. "My wife will start missing me in a couple of weeks, and then she'll have a different reaction.
"When I got ready to leave, my daughter said, 'Daddy, don't go. Why you go?' When I come back, I'm going to open a pottery shop," Kun noted.
Sgt. Wayne F. Best, another postal clerk with the 329th, said his wife's only response was "'before Christmas?' My wife hasn't said much, and it really hasn't sunk in with my kids as to how long I'll be gone," Best said. "But I'm an active Army reservist, so we expect this type of thing to happen."
This is 1st Lt. Sandra L. Miller's first deployment as a member of the 23rd Adjutant General Postal Company. She's a school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. Her husband, Dennis, is a librarian assistant with the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a reservist for nearly five years.
"My husband is a little sad about me leaving, but he has always been very supportive of what I do in the reserves," Miller said. "I feel good about going to Europe to help with the peacekeeping effort because mail is a very big morale issue. Our troops need to get their letters from home."
As troops filled out forms to have their mail forwarded to them, Rich Percival said, "We use the cards to make sure their mail doesn't get lost in the system."
The senior mail clerk at the Fort Dix official mail and distribution center, Percival added, "When their mail comes here, we forward it to the address they gave us. The locator cards are good for one year after their departure date. Their mail comes here from the unit where they were originally based and we use these cards to forward it to them."
Soldiers also filled out a postcard that reads, "I'm leaving Fort Dix en route to Germany and will be out of touch for a few days. I'll get in touch with you as soon as possible." The Army pays postage to send the cards to whomever the soldier indicates.
When Sgt. 1st Class Raymond G. Weed Sr.'s family heard the news, "they just started crying," he reflected. "They're not saying much. My youngest (Diane, 12) won't watch television. She doesn't want to know anything about Bosnia. She doesn't want to hear any news. My wife watches the news. She realizes we're firefighters and we shouldn't be going off the installation.
"They're upset about my leaving, but they're praying for me and they're happy that at least I'm getting an opportunity to see another country," Weed said.
Weed said his family shouldn't worry too much because his military and civilian jobs are the same. "I'm a firefighter with the 369th Engineer Platoon, so it's just the same as if I was doing my regular civilian job -- I'm a firefighter there, too," he said.
But there are some dangerous differences between his firefighting jobs. "Aircraft rescue firefighting training is the most different in the military as compared to civilian fire fighting training," Weed said. "We don't get any of that in civilian training because we're not near an airport. In the military, we might be near or at an airport, or we could be in the warehouse area or on an air base. Fighting an aircraft fire is a lot different from fighting a house fire. It's more dangerous. There could be weapons on board the aircraft."
Weed said his wife, Linda, and three children are "still a little scared about me going overseas. But they knew when I signed up that this is my job, and if I'm called to active duty, I have to go.
"I've stressed to my commander and some other people that if there is a fire in an area where there are mine fields, the fire will burn to us," Weed noted. "We're not going into a mine field to fight a fire."
Weed said his civilian job in West Chester, Pa., will be there when he returns. "The township I work for told me I'll have my job when I come back -- no problem," he said. "They'll either find someone to fill in or pay overtime while I'm gone."
"We expect to process about 1,000 troops through the Soldier Readiness Center," said Hank Cummings, manager of the Dix center. "We don't know how long the center will be open. But if we close it, and later DoD needs us to process more troops, we'll open it up again."