Army Reservists feel burden of extended service

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(Host) When the Reserves of Rutland’s C Company were activated last winter, 85 weekend warriors suddenly became full-time soldiers. The unit had been in Kuwait six months when they learned that their tour had been extended. The news has left some Reservists and their families torn between the wish to serve and a desire to get on with their lives.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more in the second of two parts on Vermonters in the military.

(Sound of kids and dog playing.)

(Keese) Outside their home in Arlington, Sergeant Michael Pike and his kids are playing with their black lab Basil. Pike’s wife Ellen got the dog last March, just before Pike’s reserve unit left for Kuwait.

In civilian life, Pike’s a landscaper and yard maintenance man. In the army, he’s a heavy equipment operator. His Rutland-based Reserve group, C Company of the Army’s 368th engineers, helped build a miniature city in the desert. It’s a stopping point for equipment and troops entering and leaving Iraq.

The reservists expected to be home in six months. Now, eight months after their deployment, they’re returning a few at a time for a two-week R & R. They think they’re looking at another six months’ service.

(Ellen Pike) “All summer we heard all these rumors that hopefully he’d be back before school started, and that never happened. Then it was sometime in October and then hopefully by November 1. And now we don’t -“
(Michael Pike) “That’s the roller coaster part of the ride, just not knowing.”

(Keese) The Pikes have been married less than a year. Ellen Pike, a teacher, brought one child to the marriage; he brought three. One of the things they share is a love for doing things together as a family.

(Pike) “But now that it’s only one of us here and one of us over there it’s kind of difficult.”

(Keese) Pike has been with the Army for 15 years. He enlisted right out of high school and served four years active duty. He stayed in the reserves because he wanted to get on with his life, but still serve his country. He’s learned a lot pitching in one weekend a month and two weeks each summer on public works projects around the country and even in Korea.

He says C Company does its job well and functions like a family. But there are single parents in the unit, and college kids on the GI Bill anxious to return to school.

(Pike) “I got off active duty for a reason. I stayed in the reserves cause like I said, I love my country. But a lot of guys are thinking, man – if I have to go through this and put my family through this I don’t think I want to re-enlist.”

(Keese) For a while it wasn’t clear that even this visit home was going to happen. At one point the soldiers were told they would have to buy their own tickets. Then the leaves were rescinded.

(Sandra Pinsonault) “My phone started ringing at work and the wives said, no they can’t come home. And I’m like, what do you mean?”

(Keese) Sandra Pinsonault of East Dorset is C Company’s family support leader. Her husband Dan is its highest ranking non-commisioned officer. For 28 years the reserve has been a big part of their lives. Now that C Company has been activated for the first time ever, she’s a liaison between the Army and the soldiers’ families.

(Pinsonault) “By the time I got home from work that evening, I’d gotten an e-mail from my husband saying ‘you need to do something for us back there, ’cause we can’t do the complaining here.'”

(Keese) Immediately Pinsonault called Senator Jim Jeffords in Washington. She spoke repeatedly with Governor Douglas and Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, who’s a colonel in the Air National Guard. By that weekend the Army had reversed its order and the first group of soldiers was heading home. Pinsonault says her teenage daughter and son, who’s a sophomore at Castleton, miss their dad a lot. But her husband won’t be taking his leave until all his men have taken theirs.

(Pinsonault) “He made the choice to come last. So it’s been tough. But that’s who he is.”

(Keese) Pinsonault keeps herself busy. There are other issues, including complaints that reserves don’t get the same respect and treatment as the full-time Army. And there’s always the concern about where they’ll be heading next, and when they’re coming home.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese

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