Part-Time Soldiers, Full-Time Woes

Kathryn Bischoff CBS

The men of the Florida National Guard have fought the good fight since February, from Kuwait all the way to Baghdad, battling everything from Iraqi soldiers to would-be terrorists.

Now, they and thousands of other reservists have been told they may have to stay a full year, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier. It's technically what they signed up for, but they'd been told they were going home.

Staff Sgt. Travis Bruner says he's "a little bit upset." While Specialist Drew Core says he's "in shock."

Privately, many guardsmen were more blunt; they say their commanders lied to them.

"We've been told so many dates. They just don't ever happen," said one reservist.

With the regular Army stretched thin from the Balkans to Afghanistan, the Pentagon says reservists must make up for missing manpower.

"It's going to have an impact on morale no doubt. But I think, unfortunately, we are in a situation where we need them," said former Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

First Sgt. Wayne Kelley says it's hard keeping spirits up, when no one knows what to believe.

"We were told we could go home in October," says Kelley. "We saw it in writing, 2 November. Now, we're hearing we might get extended again. So the guys are getting tired of it."

The units they fought alongside are back stateside.

"We feel we've done our duty and it's time for us to go home," says Kelley. "Like myself, I lost my business. I've got guys whose wives are getting upset, got people having babies, can't go home."

Every soldier CBS News spoke to was proud of what they'd done, and most said they'd do it again.

But as one of them said, "We're just tired. Ready to go home."

They simply feel they've earned a ticket home – or a straight answer on when they'll get there.

And CBS News Correspondent Jane Clayson reports the families back home feel the same way.

In Stanhope, N.J., Kathryn Bischoff has turned her kitchen into a shrine to her husband serving in Iraq. He's been gone almost seven months.

"My world's fallen apart and he's not going to come back for a long time. The situation is bad," she says.

Bischoff's husband is one of more than 180,000 so-called "citizen soldiers." Men and women who have regular jobs and are only called to active duty at times of conflict. Almost half of the armed forces are these part-time soldiers, now facing full-time danger.

"It may be February before I see him now. He is a reservist and it's time to rotate them back, pull in the active people and let him resume his normal life."

Martin Bischoff only had five days notice to switch from his job as a sales manager at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to his duty as a soldier. Training began in February; he was in Iraq by March.

Now, he talks to Kathryn on the phone every two weeks – if they're lucky – for 10 minutes. Beyond that, memories keep them going.

When is it the hardest? "All the time," Kathryn Bischoff says.
  • Joel Roberts

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