Three cautionary tales, via Just a Bump in the Beltway…
In 1992, Tonya Stewart left the Army after serving 13 years in uniform, believing her service to her country was over.
Now, 12 years later, she’s been recalled to active duty.
“I leave for an 18-month tour of duty in two weeks,” the 43-year-old Hellam Township resident said. “And that’s about all I really know.”
Stewart, visiting her sister’s family for Thanksgiving dinner along with her boyfriend and 9-year-old daughter, said she had received letters and phone calls from the military since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 warning her that she may be recalled.
“But to be honest, I never really thought they’d do it,” Stewart, who works for Susquehanna Communications, said with a laugh. “I’m a little too old to be running around diving in the sand.”
She was recalled from the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve, composed of men and women who, even though they have completed their tours of duty, are still obligated to return to service if the government calls for them.
Chief Warrant Officer Margaret Murray, who describes herself as “over 50,” says her small frame and some old back pain made it difficult to fire her M-16 in a marksmanship refresher course.
“With my stature, it was a challenge,” said the 4-foot-10, 95-pound, gray-haired personnel specialist from Schenectady, N.Y. “But I can hit the target now.”
Murray is one of about 4,400 Army soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve who completed their active-duty service but have been notified they must get back in uniform. Most likely, they are headed for Iraq or Afghanistan.
Ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, the returning soldiers bring valuable experience to the Army. But their advanced ages, weakened eyes and expanded waistlines mean doing things a bit differently.
“Old is the operative word. I joke my contingent just came from Fort Living Room,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Snyder, commander of the training unit here. “They haven’t run in two, four, six, maybe 10 years or more. And that goes for push-ups, too.”
One lieutenant colonel with bifocals had to switch from an M-16 rifle to a 9 mm pistol to qualify. The petite Murray learned to adjust her stance to fire her weapon.
“We don’t give up on them. We haven’t failed to qualify a single person,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Calloway, a 29-year-old Army Reserve instructor. “We just give each individual a lot of time and lots of ammunition.”
They basically told me that my Marine Corps time doesn’t count as military service,” Pistorius said. Faced with a threat of AWOL charges, and worried that a spotless military record was about to be stained, Pistorius headed last month to Camp McGrady in South Carolina.
“The first thing they did was thank us for showing up,” Pistorius said. “They had 150 that were supposed to show up and about 75 did. Of those 75 maybe only 40 or 50 are medically fit.”
Equally implausible were the men who turned up at Camp McGrady last month.
When I first spoke to Pistorius, by telephone from the camp, he said nobody had been given a physical. He told his Army commanders that he had a permanent back injury from a car crash. They were unimpressed by a letter from his chiropractor. His pre-deployment health assessment lists him in this word: “Deployable.”Pistorius spoke with his captain.
“He said everybody here’s going to Iraq,” Pistorius said. “It’s unbelievable some of the guys they’re bringing down there.”
One man arrived with a hospital identification band still on his wrist. He’d just had knee surgery. One 48-year-old from Alabama had a hip replacement and fused vertebrae in his back.