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thedrifter
05-18-07, 08:01 AM
Reservists can't sustain deployment
Area commander cites loss of troops
Friday, May 18, 2007
BY BRETT LIEBERMAN
Of Our Washington Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - Deployments by National Guard and Reserve units can't continue, the commander of a Harrisburg-based Marine Reserve unit told a panel examining how those forces should be used.

When asked whether the Marine Reserve could withstand three, four or more deployments over 20 years, Lt. Col. Geoff Rollins said, "It's not sustainable."

"I'm already losing officers and [noncommissioned officers]. They can't do any more," said Rollins, who leads the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines.

Rollins commanded nearly 200 Marines from 2/25's Harrisburg-based Echo Company when they deployed to Iraq in 2003. As the battalion gears up for a deployment next year, Rollins is losing Marines whose families and employers are tired of long absences.

Rollins and his wife, Andrea, joined family members and employers who testified yesterday before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve. The panel, created by Congress in 2005, is looking into whether the Reserve forces are broken.

Arnold Punaro, the panel's chairman, asked Rollins if families and businesses would still support multiple deployments.

Rollins' unit deployed twice in three years. Marines back from other deployments are quitting, he said.

"If they want to have an operational Reserve and they want it to be both feasible and sustainable, there's going to have to be some major changes," Punaro said later in an interview.

Pentagon officials recognize the Reserve and Guard are broken, but their focus is having enough boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, Punaro said.

The Pentagon has increased its reliance on Reserve forces in the last decade, especially since the Iraq war began in 2003.

As of Wednesday, 81,633 guardsmen and reservists were serving on active duty. Since 2001, more than 580,000 have been called up. That includes more than 16,000 of the 19,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Reserve deployments that used to average 15 days a year now average 73 days. Many units are serving 12 to 18 months. Some are being told to expect up to two years.

Only two of the six Reserve forces met recruitment and retention goals last month, even after the Defense Department lowered those goals.

Employers complained to the panel about the lack of predictability and the length of deployments, which can be costly for small businesses.

Employers are not required to pay salaries of deployed soldiers, but many make up for lost pay. Business owners testified about long-term costs of hiring additional workers or paying pension costs that accrue.

Delta Airlines spends at least $12.5 million a year employing an extra 90 pilots. More than 300 Delta pilots are on active duty.

"Effectively, there are no more one-weekend-per-month and two-weeks-per-summer reservists," chief pilot Stephen Dickson said.

Theodore Lewis Daywalt, president and CEO of VetJobs.com, recommended that employers receive cash reimbursement for the costs of hiring temporary labor. "This is just the cost of doing business if we are going to continue to use the National Guard and Reserve beyond the traditional use for which they were established," he said.

About 54 percent of employers surveyed said they would not knowingly hire members of the Guard or Reserve, though that would amount to discrimination, because of the disruption and costs.

"While these studies are abhorrent to me ... I understand where they are coming from," Daywalt said.

The deployments and shifting of resources to Iraq have left the Pennsylvania Guard and other units across the country with 50 percent or less of their approved equipment levels.

Some are concerned about troop readiness and the Guard's ability to respond to natural disasters or domestic emergencies.

"We understand that the troops on the ground in Iraq need equipment, but the people at home also have needs," said U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-Susquehanna County. He plans to chair a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Thursday about the National Guard's ability to respond to domestic crises.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday endorsed most of the changes the panel urged in March, including how the government funds the Reserve.

The panel will issue a final report in January.

BRETT LIEBERMAN: 202-383-7833 or blieberman@patriot-news.com

Ellie