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Citizen soldiers have saved our country since the battle of Concord in 1775, when Minutemen fired “the shot heard around the world.”

Today, such patriots are members of the reserve components – the National Guard and Reserve elements of all services – and our armed forces couldn’t defend America without them. Especially since, as in the early stages of almost all of America’s wars, our active-duty military is presently stretched mighty thin.

But even though our standing-duty Joes and Janes have more missions than troops and gear to fulfill them, the Pentagon is foolishly gutting the ranks of these valiant part-time soldiers. Legendary Marine leader “Chesty” Puller hit the center of the bull’s-eye when he warned, “When war comes, there will never be enough professionals to do the job.”

Since 9-11, tens of thousands of Reserve and Guard soldiers have reported to the colors, responding to the cry “Call up the reserves!” More than 200,000 of these mislabeled “part-time warriors” have been activated and are serving in the bloody trenches of Iraq and Afghanistan, providing the security, logistical muscle and brains to support our legions around this war-weary globe. And, of course, they’re part of the team securing the USA as well.

Our reserve-component warriors have traditionally been a backup team. Whenever trouble strikes, our regulars move to the vanguard and engage the enemy, while the Minutemen gear up. But since the huge cut in our active forces at the end of the Cold War, so much more of the burden of picking up the slack has fallen on the shoulders of our reserve warriors that they’re being treated more and more as regulars and are sometimes rushed into the breach in front of the so-called First Team.

Minutemen are America’s original all-volunteer force, dedicated patriots who don’t join up because it’s a job offering three squares a day and perks such as college tuition after the enlistment runs out. Most already have good civilian jobs and join up for purely noble reasons: love of country and a deep-seated desire to defend the homeland.

Being a reservist is not about playing paintball. It entails long hours, personal sacrifices and weekday evenings and weekends spent on the drill field instead of with loved ones. More than one-third of the 200,000 reservists already called to active duty are missing civilian promotions and losing money by serving. Many say the military medical plan that’s supposed to replace their civilian plans sucks; thousands of our activated reservists choose their civilian medical plans over the military’s and pay for same out of their own pockets.

Too many of the recalled reservists have been finding out that the old axiom “hurry up and wait” is alive and well in today’s force. After dropping everything when Uncle Sam says, “Get here quick smart,” they kiss the spouse and kids goodbye only to find themselves sitting on their duffel bags at Base X or Y, doing demeaning, keep-’em-busy stuff.

A reserve Army demolition expert with nine years’ active duty blowing things up was called up and assigned to a post headquarters as a data-entry and filing clerk in an office staffed with civilians. “What happens when we really need reservists?” he wants to know. “Many of my pals have already decided to quit when their current activation is completed. I can tell you now, after my release from active duty, I’ll be leaving, too.”

Many Army reservists are royally upset by active Army leaders treating them as dumb country cousins who can’t be trusted with critical tasks. Even though Army spin is that regulars and reservists are equal, no one’s bothered to brief the active regular leaders in the field – who too often still treat reservists like inferior weekend help. An activated Reserve colonel says, “Believe me, we’ve seen far more than our share of active-duty bigotry.”

A senior Pentagon officer who’s asked to remain anonymous says: “[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the rest of the Pentagon brass don’t have a decent plan to fix these problems. They study the issues to death but don’t have a clue.”

Unless wise heads quickly fix these problems, we’ll see a huge exodus of reserve-component personnel that will destroy this vital force and place our national security in even greater jeopardy.

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