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19 Nov 03,, 04:30
More Reserves Gear Up For Iraq

November 18, 2003

More than 40,000 National Guard and military reservists have been told to prepare for deployment.

There are roughly 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That number would fall to 105,000 by next spring under a new plan by the Pentagon to reduce the overall number of troops while increasing the number of part-time soldiers in the region.

A unit from the Utah National Guard practices at a firing range, training with their M-16s. It's a skill they'll need if ordered to go to Iraq. Some have only fired their weapon two or three times, and they know that's not enough.

"Once a year, I get the opportunity to work with my M-16 weapon. And it's tough," said Staff Sgt. Leslie Patterson of the Utah National Guard. "Some of my guys haven't qualified yet."

Pfc. Justin Nelson added, "Active duty definitely gets a lot more training than we do."

The reservists only train 39 days a year, often using older equipment. It's a physical and psychological challenge for these citizen soldiers, who are now being asked to handle a long deployment overseas.

"You cannot train a soldier in 39 days as well as you can train a soldier in 365 days," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash. "And that's why early mobilization and pre-deployment training is essential."

Not a Traditional Supporting Role but Front-Line Danger

That did not happen for many of the National Guard and Army Reserve troops now in Iraq. And what they're facing is not a traditional supporting role, it's front-line danger. Manning checkpoints and driving convoys make reservists attractive targets. Since May 1, two dozen have died in combat and hundreds have been injured, about the same rate as active-duty soldiers.

Reservists also account for a disproportionate share of non-battle injuries and illnesses, 40 percent even though they make up less than a quarter of the U.S. troops in Iraq. That's raising questions about their physical and mental readiness.

"We've got to use the reserves. I mean, they're just absolutely essential to our war-fighting capability," said Gen. Richard Myers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The question is, will the U.S. military be able to count on the reserves? According to a recent Pentagon survey, only 54 percent of reservists in Iraq say they would sign up again.