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The Associated Press March 9, 2003

Military hopes reserve units are prepared

Thousands of Army reservists are training at Fort Bragg for their roles in a conflict with Iraq and military officials say they believe the soldiers are ready.

All branches of military service rely increasingly on reserve troops, but especially the Army, The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday. During the Persian Gulf War, questions were raised about reservists' capabilities and whether they were up to the task.

"We ensure that the soldier can do tasks at the skill level that is necessary for the war," said National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. A. Frank Lever III, who toured Fort Bragg last week.

The National Guard makes up the largest portion of combat troops in the military's reserve component.

Many soldiers Lever talked with have never been in combat, he said, but they are ready to go.

"If they say they are a little scared, well, I'm a little scared. We all are. War is not something you go into without being a little scared," he said.

Fort Bragg is one of the nation's largest mobilization stations for the Middle East. As hundreds of reservists arrive, post officials are hustling to find housing, equipment and training time for combat.

Military analysts said the Army isn't giving reserve troops enough training.

"It's safe to assume that there are problems just because of the speed at which people are being called up and deployed. There are certainly people who don't meet the standards," said Phil Anderson, a former Marine and military analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Military officials never provide enough time for reservists to get up to speed with active-duty demands, said Piers Wood, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and visiting senior fellow at the think-tank GlobalSecurity.org.

"The reserves are always kidding themselves, saying, 'I'm ready to go in three weeks,"' Wood said. "Bull, they're not ready to go for three months."

As of the middle of last week, about 176,000 reservists had been activated nationwide, and experts say about 90 percent of those are either in the Middle East or working to support the efforts there. About 5 percent of those are from units based in the Carolinas, including Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force units.

There will be about 300,000 troops in the Mideast, but no breakdown on how many reservists are actually there is available.

Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., who represents a district that includes Fort Bragg, described reservists as "more valuable than ever."

He said any problems he hears about tend to be regarding equipment

One North Carolina soldier stationed in Afghanistan said last week that reserve troops play a crucial role in the Middle Eastern operations.

"It is usually a bit easier to tell which units are reserve versus active," Capt. Grier Martin, an Army Reserve soldier from Raleigh, wrote in an e-mail interview with The Observer. "However, from what I hear the job performance of the reserve units here has been superb."

In another sign that more roles are being given to them, National Guard combat units are scheduled for the first time to assume full responsibility for the U.S. mission in Kosovo in June 2003.

But Anderson said there is always a concern about the reservists' readiness for wartime missions, because they are not full-time soldiers.

"This is not their profession," Anderson said. "They are part-time, citizen soldiers, so you can't hold them up to the same standard."

The call-up of more than 240,000 reservists for the 1991 Persian Gulf War marked the largest mobilization of reserves since the Korean War, according to military records.


Copyright 2003, The Associated Press