Today, there are more than a thousand Army and Marine reservists now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 9-11, more than 153,00 Reserve forces have been deployed as part of the U.S. war against terrorism. As reservists, they are obligated to report for active duty during national emergencies and crises. For most of these citizen-soldiers, the call to active duty is more than just going back to military service. In reality, it was a total change of lifestyle.
Just like everybody else, these reservists held regular jobs and took their cup of Starbucks every morning on the way to work. Instead of sporting the latest in European hairstyle, the men had to go back to the crew cut and women’s allowed hair length is only up to the tip of their collar. In a typical Army Reservist platoon, one might find an advertising executive, school teacher, construction worker, and I.T. professional — soldiers all. Temporarily leaving behind their respective jobs, they now wear battle dress uniforms with M-4 rifles slung over their shoulders. Instead of neatly pressed suits and ties, they have ammunition belts, grenades, and radio equipment on their chest. Dodging speeding cars and overcoming Monday morning traffic now seem infinitely better than trying to evade roadside bombs and ambuscades.
For these somewhat hesitant soldiers, leaving the office to be deployed to war-torn Iraq or battle-scarred Afghanistan was not a choice — it was an obligation. Reservist officers need to serve for an accumulated total of eight years before they have a choice to resign their commissions. Surprisingly, many actually opt to re-enlist or continue their military service even if they had to option not to. Some of those who reported back to their Army or Marine Reserve units felt guilty about seeing the war from the t.v. screens instead of being actually part of the mission. Those missions, however, are not always about going out on combat duty. There are actually more than 100 types of jobs that they can fill. These Reserve jobs include administrative duties, legal staff work, mechanics, construction and engineering, and computer-related functions.
Whether they will be deployed on combat duty or to fill an equally important desk job, many of these Reservists share a common challenge — overcoming depression. Sadness afflicts both the hesistant Reservist who got a call-up order through mail and the all-too-willing patriot who believed in the war on terror. More than just leaving their jobs, they have to say tearful goodbyes to family and loved ones and get shipped off for at least six months to a year. In fact, many members of the Reserve forces are newlyweds or new parents. Imagine having to leave a newborn child not knowing if you would ever come back from a war that had already taken thousands of lives.
Anxious and riddled with fear, those who are “called-up” pack their bags and head for their designated Army camps and stations for months of retraining before the actual deployment to the field. There, they get training to strengthen their bodies that have become accustomed to the comforts of civilian life. Indoctrination and refresher courses have also been designed to make their better understand their mission while providing them much-needed strategies on how to gain emotional stability.
The U.S. military now has several programs to ensure that their troops have enough stability to go out for deployment. One such program is called the 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 distresses among soliders. More than just facing the stacatto of gunfire or going on a risky Humvee ride across the Iraqi desert, being hundreds of miles away from home is what really makes many soldiers unhappy or downright morose.
In some cases, military doctors need to prescribe antidepressants to soldiers who do not easily adjust to their new role as military personnel. For many Reservists who do not really intend to stay in active military service for a minute longer that is required, the availability of counseling and therapy is as important as having enough supplies of food and ammunition. Indeed, their struggle with physical dislocation and separation from their loved ones due to deployment is really the very first battle they need it.