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04-09-06, 09:05 AM
A forgotten force: Some 500 Army reservists based at Camp Pendleton

By: BARBARA HENRY - Staff Writer

The some 500 Army reservists based at Camp Pendleton could be described as a group of hardly noticed faces ---- even some Marines on the base don't realize they are there, local Army Reserve officers report.

The reserve units, including the 478th Transportation Co., have their headquarters near the base's front gate and share training facilities with the Marines, but each reservist usually only trains one weekend a month, plus a two-week session once a year. So, they are easy to miss.

It isn't uncommon for people who aren't in the military to be baffled by what a reservist does. Many folks think the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard are the same thing, but the two jobs are completely different, reservist public affairs officials said.

"Contrary to the National Guard, almost all of the Reserve is in support functions," said John D. Wagner, former deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Army's 63rd Regional Readiness Command ---- the post that manages California reservists, as well as some from Arizona and Nevada.

Wagner, who has recently been deployed to Iraq, said members of the National Guard often fight side by side with the Army's soldiers in wartime, while Army reservists are responsible for support services. Reservists provide medical care, transportation of food and ammunition, intelligence gathering, even mail delivery.

These days, those support jobs can be some of the more dangerous positions in Iraq because they involve regular travel on Iraq's roadways where insurgent-planted explosive devices lurk.

But, it didn't used to be that way. Established in 1908, the U.S. Army Reserve was initially responsible for defending the homefront when active-duty soldiers went to war in foreign lands.

"Since Desert Storm, since after the Cold War, since the military's been cut back ... that's all changed," Wagner said.

Out of the some 7,500 Army reservists in the U.S. Army's 63rd Regional Readiness Command, about 4,500 have been sent to Iraq since the war began in March 2003, public affairs officer Maj. Jorge Swank said Thursday.

Nationally, recruiters with the Reserves and the National Guard have reported that their jobs have gotten tougher as the war has dragged on. A recruiter working the Oceanside region last summer said that convincing parents to let their children join is the toughest part of his job.

In order to join the Reserve, a 17-year-old must have a parent's permission. At 18, they can make the decision themselves. While some reservists are teenagers, others enter after serving in the regular Army for years.

A new Reserve enlistee who has no previous military experience can expect to earn a base pay of $157 to $222 for each two-day drill weekend, said Catherine Caruso, a public affairs specialist with U.S. Army recruiting's Southern California branch.

If that same person was put on active, full-time duty in preparation for being sent to Iraq, that salary could range from $1,178 for a private to $1,663 for a specialist, she said. However, those are just base figures ---- they don't include adjustments for everything from marital status to the person's geographical location, she said. And, there are one-time bonuses of up to $20,000 for such things as agreeing to ship out early or for recruiting a friend to join. Reservists also qualify for the G.I. Bill for college funding.

Enlistees must commit to eight years with the Reserve, but not all of that time has to be spent in drill status ---- people could be "on call" for part of their eight-year commitment, Caruso said. But, they won't get paid for that time.

A new reservist is sent to boot camp, just like everyone else in the military. But after that, their military career is different. They have control over which unit they join and what job they do. They also have some voice in whether they are sent to Iraq. If their unit isn't picked to go, they can volunteer to join another unit that is going, Caruso said.