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Burden of reserve call-ups falling unevenly

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The buildup for possible war with Iraq has drained National Guard and reserve troops unevenly across the country, with states like North Dakota, Nevada and Connecticut being hit much harder than Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii, an Associated Press analysis shows.

The Persian Gulf mobilizations, coupled with the demands of the war on terrorism, have left communities with fewer prison guards, firefighters, police -- even high school wrestling coaches.

"Everybody's affected," said Bruce, Miss., Mayor Jesse Quillen, whose town of 2,097 had 75 men and women called up last month. "Employers lose workers, children lose a dad or a mom for the length of the deployment and the impact of it is felt from one end of Calhoun County to the other."

Pentagon officials say the call-ups are based mostly on the needs of commanders in the field, and on the training, specialties, and readiness of guard and reserve units back home. Impact on communities is considered but isn't a primary concern.

"We don't measure contributions by numbers alone," said Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon spokesman. "All 54 states and territories are supporting the war on terrorism. ... Each of those contributions is equally critical and equally appreciated."

The AP analysis of Pentagon call-ups shows North Dakota has shouldered the biggest burden, per capita, of any state. As of last week, 36 out of every 10,000 North Dakotans age 18 or older was serving on active duty from a reserve or National Guard unit.

By comparison, fewer than five of every 10,000 eligible people in New York, Michigan and Hawaii were on active duty from a reserve or guard unit. In 19 other states, fewer than 10 of every 10,000 eligible people were under orders.

The Police Executive Research Forum in Washington surveyed 976 law enforcement agencies nationwide last fall and found 44 percent had lost personnel to military call-ups.

'Some stress on the folks'

"It puts some stress on the folks back here, but they see it as part of answering the call of duty," said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, citing the example of a local business that had four of its eight employees activated.

In Alabama, officials are scrambling to replace 152 prison guards who have been called to active duty. In West Virginia, state officials are revising emergency response plans to reflect the absence of dozens of guard and reserve troops now serving overseas. And in Lincoln, Neb., four high schools are searching for new wrestling coaches to replace those called to active duty.

All three states ranked among the top 10 in guard and reserve rates calculated by AP.

Under an order signed by President Bush three days after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, up to 1 million Guard and reserve troops can be called to serve for up to two years. Slightly more than 175,000 were on active duty last week.

, out of 225,000 that have been called up since Bush signed the order. It's the largest reserve call-up since the Gulf War, when some 240,000 were activated.

The Pentagon doesn't specify where reserve units have been sent, but a substantial number are being deployed for the possible war to disarm and overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Pentagon officials say state comparisons of activation and strength numbers don't show the whole picture because some activated reserves aren't affiliated with state units. But Stoneking said most of the call-ups so far involve reservists with state affiliations.

North Dakota has just over 4,500 guard and reserve troops, and 1,405, or nearly a third, have been called to active duty. Similarly, 30 percent of the reserves in Nevada and Connecticut have been mobilized. At the other end of spectrum, the Pentagon has called up just 185 of Hawaii's 8,927 reserves, only 7 percent of Alaska's and 9 percent of Vermont's.

Despite the impact on North Dakota, Hoeven said he has no quarrel with the Pentagon's criteria for calling up reservists. "The priority has to be making sure we fight this war on terrorism in the best way we can," he said.

Pentagon officials say they know of no instances where state leaders or members of Congress have tried to influence the mobilization process.

Some states with relatively small guard and reserve forces have experienced much higher than normal call-up rates. Massachusetts, for example, ranks 40th among the states in the number of reservists per eligible person, but 18th in the rate of call-up.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hawaii, which has the most reservists per eligible person of any state. Only the District of Columbia has more. But Hawaii ranks last with less than three reserve call-ups for every 10,000 people age 18 or older.


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