With the announcement of yet another year-long deployment for 2,700 National Guard members from Minnesota, we are seeing the most extensive use of our reserve forces in history.
This raises the legitimate question of whether the men and women in the military reserve forces are being overused in our war on terror, which has now exceeded eight years with no end in sight.
Until several years ago, members of the Reserve were called "weekend warriors" and were trained and equipped with obsolete weapons. Most active duty leaders felt that Guard and Reserve members were well intentioned, but really weren't needed unless there was a major national emergency, and then only for a short time until the active duty could take over. Those days are long over.
Today, every general or admiral will tell you this nation cannot provide adequate defense without the full participation of reserve forces. Those reservists are no longer "weekend warriors." They are as well trained and equipped as our active duty members.
Over 40 percent of the armed forces serving in Iraq and combat areas are our "citizen soldiers." They don't deploy for just a short time, but often for a year or more.
When active duty military members are sent to a combat area, they make major sacrifices. Families are left behind; holidays are missed; weddings are rescheduled; the members face severe discomfort and danger. But those active duty members are full time workers and realize their job may require lengthy and frequent deployments.
Members of the reserve forces, on the other hand, are part time members of the military. They are ready and willing to perform their duties during national emergencies, but they didn't volunteer for full time status. Most of them have excellent civilian careers and are valuable employees.
By the way, these are the same National Guard members who are called to action by the governor when there is a flood, forest fire or state emergency. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these young men and women.
For seven years, I was the Minnesota state chair of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense organization of volunteers intended to work with the employers of Guard and Reserve members. We have about 125 volunteers in the state, many of them attorneys and business executives.
Our role is to educate employers about their legal responsibilities in keeping jobs open for employees who are returning from deployments and training. We also emphasize how important their employees are in our national defense and strongly encourage them to go above and beyond what is demanded by law.
We have found employers to be extremely cooperative. Many do remarkable things for their citizen soldiers, by voluntarily making up the difference in pay if the military pay is lower; shoveling sidewalks and mowing lawns when employees are away from home; helping remodel and repair homes for those deployed, and many other things to make it easier for the family and to show appreciation for their employees' military service.
These employers are patriots; they are making significant sacrifices in their businesses, with some of their key employees away for a year, many of them more than once.
They did this very willingly early in the war on terror, but some are now beginning to question why and how long they will be asked to give up their good workers in a war that seems to have no end.
Our elected national leaders rightly make the decisions about foreign policy. When they decide it is in the national interest to use combat troops, the members of the military step up and do their duty.
The time and place to question the wisdom of political decisions is at the ballot box. However, when our national leaders decide it is necessary to use military force, they must realize there is an enormous cost involved, both in lives and in money.
When the political decision is made to remain in combat for years on end, there is an obligation to spend the necessary money to dramatically increase the size of the active duty force to carry out this mission. Instead, our elected leaders have not committed the necessary money to increase the size of the active force to adequate levels, and are relying on the continued use of reserve forces to augment the too-small active force. This has resulted in the overuse of reserve forces and, quite frankly, the overuse of active duty personnel.
We must remember that since the draft ended about 30 years ago, all of our military members are volunteers. Due to the high technology weapon systems now in use, all of our military members are well educated, highly trained, motivated, patriotic and -- I repeat -- volunteers.
Even in a sagging economy, they are very employable and can choose to leave the military (active duty, Guard or Reserve) if they, their families or their civilian employers feel overextended.
Our military members expect to make sacrifices and are more than willing to carry out our national agenda, but they do rightly expect and deserve the best equipment and adequate numbers so the burden is not too onerous. We, as taxpayers and voters, must demand that if the combat is to continue, substantial resources be devoted to our national defense in the form of additional equipment, adequate pay and more active duty military members. War is extremely expensive. It cannot be done on the cheap.
The decision is simple: Either end the combat or pay the price. We can no longer rely on the outstanding young men and women in the reserve forces, used over and over again because our active duty military is too small.
Denny Schulstad, Edina, is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, and state chair emeritus of Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve. He is also a former member of the Minneapolis City Council.