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Old 03-06-2005, 07:32 AM
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Default Former soldiers back in uniform for Iraq

Former soldiers back in uniform for Iraq


By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, March 6, 2005



TIKRIT, Iraq ? You?re in the Army now.

Make that ?again.?

?The old uniform fit a little tight,? Sgt. Brian Walker said. ?Luckily, they issued me four new sets.?

Walker is one of 5,600 people, many of whom hadn?t worn a military uniform in years, taken from civilian life and activated under the Individual Ready Reserve program.

Last summer, the Pentagon announced it was calling up the civilians because there were not enough reservists, guardsmen or active-duty troops to fill certain duty slots, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Walker, an immigration officer from Swanton, Vt., left the Army in 1998 but signed up for the IRR program in exchange for a $5,900 per year. Now it?s payback time.

?It?s kind of ironic,? said Walker. ?Me and my wife waited 10 years to have children in case of a deployment.? They now have a 5-year-old daughter.

In justifying the call-up, Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army?s vice chief of staff, told Congress last summer it was the ?worst-case? deployment plans after the rise in violence in Iraq.

David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was quoted by Stars and Stripes last year as saying the IRR ?is part of the obligation that each entrant in the military assumes. The fact that it is rare that we call up the Individual Ready Reservist does not, of course, mean that it is inappropriate.?

Some IRR members were activated for the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, Chu said.

Walker, a member of the 376th Personnel Services Battalion, said he chose to join the ready reserves for the money after he left active duty.

Others, such as Spc. Steven Sena, of Albuquerque, N.M., were called up as part of an eight-year obligation he incurred for enlisting in the military. Sena served for two years, which automatically made him eligible for activation over the next six years.

?I?m still not happy I got called back, especially when they don?t need us,? said Sena of the 326th Postal Platoon. ?They could have called up other people in our place who wanted to go.?

Shonda Humphrey, who left the Army in May 2001, was also called back for a tour in Iraq.

Humphrey, a single mother with children ages 6, 4 and 3, became Spc. Humphrey, assigned to the 326th, after receiving her alert notice last August. She has chosen to look at the bright side of her one-year call to duty.

?Since I?m here I might as well learn postal operations, since they reclassified me as postal,? said Humphrey, a payroll administrator from Montgomery, Ala., whose obligation to the Army would have expired in May. ?Maybe I?ll go home and get a good postal job.?

Humphrey?s three children are being cared for by her fianc?, who is not the children?s father, and her sister.

?I try not to talk to [the children] every day because they get sad,? Humphrey said. ?But as far as my fianc? and sister, I talk to them just about every day.?

Master Sgt. Lisa Turner, the 326th?s platoon sergeant, was also thrown when she got her call-up letter in July.

?At first it was a shock to receive my orders,? Turner said. ?Then Sena and I went through training at Camp McGrady [S.C.]. For me, it was pretty motivating.?

Turner said she was getting an increase in her pension because of the call-up.

Turner, an administrative assistant at the University of Maine at Farmington, says she gets lots of love from the folks on campus.

?As liberal as they are, and as much as they hate the war, they?re still supportive of me; they send their letters and e-mails,? said Turner, a mother of five daughters (two of whom are married) and granddaughter of two. Her husband, Louis, now has to hold down the household fort.

As postal specialists in Iraq, the soldiers have several duties. They break down pallets of incoming mail for troops in Iraq and push it to outlying bases, help customers at base post offices, and prepare outgoing mail for the States.

Sena, an estimator for a paint contracting company, suffers from the same heartache as the deployed reservists, guardsmen and active-duty troops in Iraq who are used to wearing a uniform on a regular basis.

His son, Isaiah, recently turned 1. Isaiah was just 5 months old when his father left for the seven-month retraining program that ready reservists must undergo, making his actual time away from home 19 months.

?It?s just difficult because you wonder if he?s going to know you?re his dad when you return,? Sena said.
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