Called back to serve

Woman who thought her obligation to the Army was over tries to avoid a tour of duty in Iraq.

A Granite Falls [Washington] woman who was released from the Army Reserve after only a few months in uniform was shocked by a recent military mailgram telling her to report for duty next month for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I thought I was discharged and done," said Andrea DeGeus.

It wasn't so simple.
Andrea DeGeus holds her 14-month-old
daughter, Abby, to comfort her Thursday.

DeGeus' name was transferred into the Individual Ready Reserve, an administrative roster the Army plucks soldiers from during times of war.

DeGeus, 21, is now struggling to get her Army orders changed. Her biggest worry is 14 months old.

"My daughter. That's everything," DeGeus said, referring to Abby, her toddler.

"Not to mention we could lose our house. What are things going to be like after I leave my job?" DeGeus asked.

"But 90 percent of it is my daughter. What's it going to be like to be away from her for a year and a half to two years, to however long they decide to keep me?"

DeGeus is one of the more than 3,000 people nationwide in the Army's Individual Ready Reserve who have received orders to report for active duty.

Soldiers who sign enlistment contracts with the Army are usually required to serve two or more years in the Ready Reserve. Soldiers in the Ready Reserve don't report for regular training like those in other Reserve components, but their names are put on a roster and they can be called back to serve in times of war or national emergencies.

The Army began mobilizing soldiers in the Ready Reserve after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but it's been a surprise for some who didn't realize they still had a contractual commitment with the military.

While some of those soldiers who have received mobilization orders have asked for exemptions or extensions before they report for duty, others have filed lawsuits to get out of serving.

The Army has issued 3,802 mobilization orders for soldiers in the IRR.

That number is not out of line with earlier mobilizations, or the size of the IRR itself, said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart.

"We've only tapped barely 4,000 people out of 114,000," Hart said.

While Hart said she can't talk about a specific soldier's case, she said the Army has been compassionate as it considers soldiers' requests for exemptions from the call-up, or extensions for people who want more time before they report for duty.

"Everyone's situation is carefully considered and thoughtfully looked over," she said. "If indeed a person does have a valid reason, and can submit the necessary documentation to support the request, that's sent forth."

And soldiers who ask for an extension or exemption are automatically given 30 extra days to work on their request.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the main driver.

"The leadership has indeed recognized that the Army is thin, and is a little stretched," Hart said.

The Army also needs to "rebalance" the force because many soldiers with specialty training - special forces, civil affairs specialists and others - are currently assigned to reserve units.

DeGeus has been told to report for duty March 20 at Fort Jackson, S.C.

It's been a few years since she was last in uniform.

DeGeus joined the Army Reserve in 2001 while she was in her senior year at Lake Stevens High School. She had other friends who enlisted, and her jobas a civil affairs specialist - soldiers who set up shake-and-bake civilian governments at the close of conflicts - sounded like a good way to make a difference to the 17-year-old.

"It all sounded great to me," she recalled. "I could be everything and save everyone, and save the world."

After her basic and advanced training, she was told to report for duty at the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion at Ft. Lewis. Two months into her assignment there, and with war imminent in Afghanistan, DeGeus realized that Army life was not for her.

"I kind of decided if I was called upon, I didn't think I could necessarily do what they wanted me to do," she said. "I didn't think that I could kill another human."

She talked with her commander, who agreed to discharge her for "failure to perform." DeGeus thought that was the end of her military career, and didn't realize she had been transferred into the IRR. She thought her discharge canceled her contract obligation.

Beyond getting bills to pay back the portion of the enlistment bonus she had already received, DeGeus didn't think much about the Army. She went on with her life; had a baby, got married, bought a house and got a job as a medical assistant for Planned Parenthood.

That changed two weeks ago when an Army mailgram arrived at her mother's house.

"I was like, what the heck is this? This says I'm supposed to go to Iraq," she recalled. "We just knew it was a mistake. It had to be."

DeGeus said she first thought of ways to get out of serving. Maybe she could get pregnant. Or go to Canada.

Those thoughts were foolish, she said.

Now, DeGeus is hoping the Army will give her an exemption because she's the primary caregiver for her daughter. Her husband, Jason, works six days a week, and her mother isn't an option, either.

"As much as I adore my granddaughter," Rana Zucchi said, filling in for her daughter isn't feasible.

Zucchi, who lives in Arlington, commutes to King County for work and often has to travel with her job.

Last week, DeGeus talked with Army officials about an exemption and is now gathering the paperwork the military needs to consider her request. She's hoping the three weeks she has before she has to report for duty will be enough time to get it all together.

"I'm hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. That's all I can do."

It's in the contract

The enlistment contract used by the Army plainly details the requirement for soldiers to serve in the Individual Ready Reserve.

The contract states:
"As a member of the Ready Reserve I may be required to perform active duty or active duty for training without my consent (other than as provided in item 8 of this document) as follows:
(1) in time of national emergency declared by the President of the United States, I may be ordered to active duty (other than for training) for not more than 24 consecutive months."

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or kelly@heraldnet.com.

photo credit: Dan Bates / The Herald
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