When I left active military duty, I fully intended to find a reserve position and continue my military career in conjunction with my private sector job.
Then I got pregnant. Two months later, the attacks of September 11 happened.
For both reasons, I became much less interested in pursuing a reserve position. First, there really weren't many open slots accessible by subway -- or even by Amtrak train. Second, I was skittish about being deployed with a baby at home and a husband whose bank job wasn't conducive to single parenting.
So both of us (my husband left active duty shortly after I did) transferred to the IRR -- Individual Ready Reserve -- just like Lisa Pagan, the woman in North Carolina who was recalled to duty earlier this month.
There's been some discussion online regarding Pagan's decision to bring her two children with her to Fort Benning when she reported for duty, as well as some misconceptions regarding her military commitment and that of others in the IRR.
Pagan received orders recalling her to active duty in December 2007. She filed appeals stating that due to the travel requirements of her husband's job, and the fact that she did not have family nearby to assist in caring for her children while she was deployed, she could not report for duty.
Her appeals were rejected, and when her reporting date arrived she went to Fort Benning with children in tow.
Was Pagan intending only to make a spectacle of herself, or did she truly have no child care options? Being part of the IRR, should she have had a plan in place in the event that she was recalled to active duty?
From a RAND Institute report on Deployment Experiences of Guard and Reserve Families (PDF): "Over 550,000 reserve component members have been deployed to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and these guardsmen and reservists represent almost 30 percent of all deployments." The report goes on to assess the "financial readiness, readiness related to household responsibilities, and emotional or mental readiness" of these families when faced with deployment orders. The study found that nearly two-thirds of reserve component members considered themselves prepared for deployment.
But there's a key difference between reserve component members and the IRR. Reserve component members are those who serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year in an active duty capacity. They are paid for their service, and their years of service count toward military retirement.
Members of the IRR "are not assigned to a unit and do not participate in regular drills," according to the Military Law Task Force website. However, all IRR members "need to be immediately available for mobilization."
Although I left active duty after my four year commitment was up, I still had a remaining military service obligation: an additional four years, either in a reserve component or in the IRR. During those four years spent in the IRR, I was never recalled to active duty. I knew it was possible, but it was also highly unlikely.
September 11 and the War on Terror changed those assumptions. Given the number of reservists and guardsmen that have been mobilized, plus more than six thousand members of the IRR and our continuing commitments overseas -- even with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq -- it's no longer highly unlikely that IRR members will be called.
Even though Pagan should have been prepared for recall, it's not necessarily feasible for IRR members to structure their civilian lives -- including where they live and the jobs they and they spouse hold -- around the possibility of deployment orders. Pagan didn't have family nearby who could assist in caring for her children. Her husband's job had heavy travel requirements.
Could her children have gone to live with one set of grandparents during her deployment? Could one set of grandparents come to live in Pagan's home while she was on active duty? On the surface, those options seem to have more potential than a job change for Pagan's husband, especially considering the unemployment rate and the additional child care logistical hurdles (Pagan had been a stay-at-home-mother).
Bringing her children to Fort Benning certainly brought Lisa Pagan's struggles into the spotlight, and it seems that she will be discharged as she had requested in her appeals. But the more far-reaching implications of this case concern other members of the IRR.
While those of us who spent time in the IRR earlier this decade felt fairly confident that we would not be recalled, IRR members today don't have that luxury. Perhaps it's time to have discussions with both immediate and extended family, as well as employers, about the "what-ifs". Those "what-ifs" may never come to pass, but at this point it's crucial to contemplate them even in the abstract.
Julie is a former Air Force officer and professional project manager turned web writer. She spent four years at the Pentagon and five years in New York City, and her suburban life in Colorado seems pastoral by comparison. She's no political pundit, but she is an objective thinker in a sea of partisan propagandists. She writes for The Mom Slant, Cool Mom Picks, and is co-founder of The Parent Bloggers Network.
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