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Reservists make costly sacrifices

©Associated Press
April 8, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Bob's Pizzeria in upstate New York was wobbling in its second year when owner Robert Francis Banas abruptly shut it down and marched off to the war on terrorism.

A National Guardsman for six years, Banas was called to duty Sept. 11, the day the terrorists struck. After a few days in New York City, he spent a month guarding the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge on the U.S.-Canada border.

"Everyone was expecting another attack," he said.

Nearly seven months after the terror attacks -- six months since the Afghan war started Oct. 7 -- more than 83,000 reservists and guardsmen are on active duty for the federal government. That's the most since the Gulf War.

Governors have called up 7,000 guardsmen for airport security.

As they went off to fight, protect or support, many left jobs that pay far more than they earn on duty. That is creating some precarious family financial situations and endangering the existence of some small businesses.

Banas padlocked his fledgling enterprise on Sept. 11. He served for about a month.

"We weren't sure how long we were going to be gone, and no one else was really capable of keeping the place open. I didn't reopen until November 9th," Banas said, apologizing for frequent interruptions as he took some of the 40 to 50 pizza orders he gets a night.

A $10,000 Small Business Administration loan enabled him to reopen and rehire his workers.

* * *

Despite the title "reserves," such forces are far from the last resort, mobilized only when the entire active duty military is at war.

In the post-Cold War era, the military has shrunk to 1.4-million troops from a high of 2-million during the mid 1980s. As a result, the Pentagon must turn to its 1.3-million reservists to shoulder part of any military campaign.

By law, companies must let reservists and guardsmen go on duty, and rehire them to equivalent jobs on their return -- including raises and other benefits they would have earned had they stayed.

For most reservists and guardsmen, the part-time duty is extra cash in peacetime. But when mobilized, they earn only what active duty service members get, and that often is much less.

Compensation for money they lose while serving isn't required, but some employers pay on-duty employees at least part of the difference.

"If you're serving in Afghanistan or you've been called to duty at an airport, you still have to pay your mortgage," Army Maj. Hunt Kerrigan said. "If your salary has been cut in half, how do you deal with that?"

* * *

The $4,200 a month Senior Master Sgt. Fritz Vogel earns at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey is about half his normal income, he says.

To his daughter and son, that means the twice-a-week karate classes are history, movie trips are a rarity and bowling is out.

"You have to re-examine where every penny goes," said Vogel, 48, who closed his construction business when he was called up Oct. 22 for a year.

The youngsters have "gotten the brunt of it," he said. While they understand why their father is away, they still are youngsters who make demands on their parents.

"We get hammered every weekend," he said. "They want to do this, want to do that.' We've got to say, 'No, no, no.' "

Also sacrificing are their two older sons, 26 and 25. Vogel laid them off because he is the one who writes the bids, gets the jobs and oversees the work.

Despite the hardships, Vogel was eager to serve after Sept. 11. The man who has been on active or reserve military status for 27 years volunteered the next day.

"We went up to New York, putting up a triage unit at 120 Broadway, right at ground zero," Vogel said. "We took it apart because there was nobody coming in" except firefighters with eye and respiratory problems.

After a month at home, Vogel was called for the year, and is thrilled to be doing construction projects on the base. "I have my expertise that I'm putting to use on the military side," while learning some new tricks from the military.

* * *

Delta Airlines pilot Walter Mood was not elated about being called up Oct. 15.

"It wasn't exactly on my list of things to do that day," said Mood, an Air Force major flying C-5 transport planes out of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. "But part of the contract is that if the country needs me, I will go."

His $7,500 monthly military pay falls $5,000 short of his former earnings, in part because as a civilian he had two jobs -- flying for Delta and spending about 80 days a year on reserve duty.

But Mood, 37, and his wife "always planned to live fairly simply." He's been on active or reserve status since they married 15 years ago. "We can still live on a major's salary."

Yet even they have cut back: "We're definitely not saving as much, and we're eating out less."

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