Today, more than a thousand army and navy reservists are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since September 11, more than 153,000 reserve forces have been deployed as part of the United States’ war on terrorism. As reservists, they are obliged to report to active duty in the event of national emergencies and crises. For most of these citizen soldiers, the call to active service is more than just a return to military service. In reality, it was a complete lifestyle change.
Like everyone else, these reservists had regular jobs and took their Starbucks cup with them every morning on the way to work. Instead of wearing the latest European hairstyle, the men had to go back to the crew cut and the allowed hair length of the women is only up to the tip of their collar. In a typical Army Reservist platoon, you could have an advertiser, a school teacher, a construction worker, and an I.T. professional — soldiers all. They temporarily leave their respective jobs behind and now wear combat uniforms with M-4 rifles over their shoulders. Instead of properly pressed suits and ties, they have ammunition belts, grenades and radio equipment on their chests. Avoiding fast-moving cars and overcoming traffic on Monday morning now seems infinitely better than avoiding roadside bombs and ambus cadets was not an option – it was an obligation. Reserve officers must serve a total of eight years before they can resign their commissions. Surprisingly, many actually choose to resume or continue military service even if they have had the option not to do so. Some of those who reported to their army or marine reserve units felt guilty of watching the war on TV. Screens instead of actually being part of the mission. However, these missions are not always about being in combat. There are actually more than 100 types of jobs they can fill. These reserve jobs include administrative, legal, mechanic, construction, engineering, and computer related functions.
Whether they are used in combat or to fill an equally important desk job, many of them reservists share a common challenge – overcoming depression. Sadness affects both the hesitant reservist who received an order to retrieve it by mail and the overly willing patriot who believed in the war on terror. They not only have to leave their workplace, but also tearfully say goodbye to family and relatives and be transported away for at least six months to one year. In fact, many members of the reserve force are newlyweds or new parents. Imagine leaving a newborn child behind without knowing if you would ever return from a war that has cost thousands of lives.
Fearful and afraid, those who are “drafted” pack their bags and go to the designated army camps and stations for months of retraining before they are actually deployed in the field. There they are trained to strengthen their bodies, which have become accustomed to the comfort of civil life. Indoctrination and refresher courses have also been developed to improve understanding of their mission and provide them with the much-needed strategies to achieve emotional stability.
The US military now has several programs in place to ensure that its troops have enough stability for deployment. One such program is called Mental Health Self-Assessment Program, or MHSAP, a voluntary and anonymous program that measures the presence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological or emotional stress in soldiers. More than just facing the gunfire stacatto or taking a risky Humvee ride through the Iraqi desert, being hundreds of miles from home, makes many soldiers really unhappy or downright grumpy.
In some cases, military doctors will have to prescribe soldiers antidepressants that cannot easily adapt to their new role as military personnel. For many reservists who do not really intend to remain in active military service for a minute longer, the availability of advice and therapy is as important as an adequate supply of food and ammunition. In fact, their struggle against physical confusion and separation from loved ones is really the very first fight they need because of the effort.
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