The events of Sept. 11 have changed young Americans’ way of life like no previous event has, and additional changes are a certainty as the country prepares to retaliate. As some students may be called up to serve their country, they and those remaining on campus will determine how their generation will respond to this “new war.”
Three days after terrorists attacked New York and Washington, D.C., President Bush authorized a partial mobilization of up to 50,000 National Guard and Reserve troops. Of the troops activated, the Army is providing 10,000, the Air Force 13,000, the Marines 7,500, the Navy 3,000 and the Coast Guard 2,000.
“The reserves is a critical part of the U.S. Army,” said Patrick McKevitt, UW-Madison assistant military science professor. “It’s what the army is built on.”
Four UW-Madison students were called to service and recently withdrew from the university. They, like most of the called reserves, are expected to remain in the United States to serve in “Operation Noble Eagle,” a homeland defense and civil support operation. Many more have been activated.
“They’ll be doing a lot of domestic missions inside the country,” said Aleron Rognlie, president of Vets for Vets, a veteran resource organization. “They’ll get aircraft and machinery ready, patrol the U.S. and prevent security problems.”
Rognlie said the way the reserves is structured will allow higher-ranking members of the military to concentrate on more specialized projects.
Most members of the reserves have not been called up, but are activated. Justin Debroux, UW freshman and member of the National Guard, said he ? and others in his position ? are prepared to serve.
“We’re on standby,” Debroux said. “We’re ready to go.”
Although, before the terrorist attacks, calling reserves up seemed unlikely, most reserve volunteers are not opposed to serving.
“I didn’t expect anything like this to happen,” Debroux said. “But I wouldn’t mind going. We have a job to go get whoever did this.”
Dana Burchfield, a friend and coworker of one of the called students, said her friend did not expect to be called up to serve.
“He was pretty comfortable being activated. It seemed pretty routine,” she said. “Then he got the call. He wasn’t really expecting it, but he seemed fine.”
Rognlie said the reserves should not be surprised being called, because it was always a known possibility.
“I think it’s their responsibility to go and serve their country,” he said. “They’re nervous, but they have to get past that and do what they’re trained to do.”
But doing this has some student reserves worried about their status at UW.
To ease this worry, the university gave the four called students full refunds for their tuition and books for the current semester. UW will also allow the reserves students to go through an expedited re-admissions process when they return.
Lt. Col. Terry McArdle, full-time judge advocate of the ROTC, said these practices are not mandatory for universities.
“There is no automatic protection for students in withdrawing,” he said. “The university has been very proactive. A bill is trying to make law what UW is doing.”
McKevitt said questions about their status upon return are a significant concern for most reserves.
“Hopefully, employers and universities will be taking care of them,” he said.
Although only four students have left the university, some people said the activations and call-ups have shown the reality of the country’s military situation.
Burchfield said the events had a surprising impact on her.
“I wasn’t expecting to be directly affected,” she said. “It hit a little closer to home than I expected it to.”
However, Burchfield said most students do not seem as deeply affected by the recent reserve events.
“People are just trying to get through their day,” she said.
A reason many people are unaware of the military actions is that this new war, as opposed to wars in the past, does not rely on large numbers of troops. Bush said this military campaign relies on intelligence and covert forces, not traditional manpower.
With this in mind, the army predicts that the full 50,000 reserves troops mobilized by the president will not be needed.
This prediction eases the worry some have of the U.S. authorizing a draft. A draft is also unlikely because the Selective Service Act is expired and would require an act of Congress to be restored.
A drawback to the strategies of the new war is that military and government officials can reveal little information to the public. While this is done to keep information away from potential terrorists, the added security makes it difficult for reserves to know where they are going to be stationed.
Heightened security can also cause problems for people trying to contact called reserves.
Robert McGrath, director of Counseling and Consultation Services, a unit of University Health Services, said communication is a key to helping and supporting reserves who have gone to serve.
“This whole thing has drawn out an awareness of connectedness,” he said. “Everyone needs to stay in good communication and be as supportive as they can be.”