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Guard, Reserve forces cope with active-duty extension

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 02, 2002) -- For Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard troops, the jab "weekend warrior" lost relevance long ago.

As many as 14,000 such troops, more than 60 percent of them in the security forces career field, have been on active duty for more than a year now as a result of the war on terrorism. Recently, Reserve and Guard troops learned they would remain on active duty for another year. Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Lee, a security forces specialist with the ANG's 177th Security Forces Squadron in Atlantic City, N.J., was called to active duty the same evening the World Trade Center towers came down in New York City.

"I graduated (from) the police academy just last summer," said Lee, who had just started his civilian career as a police officer with the Margate, N.J., police department. "I spent three months on the street and then Sept. 11 came. I was activated that night."

With one year of active-duty service already under his belt, more time than he has spent in his civilian career, news of the one-year extension to his tour did not surprise him.

"Throughout the year they said there was a good possibility we are going to be out here for a second year, but I was not disappointed," Lee said. "I want to be released from active duty, but I knew when I enlisted that if the country needed me in a time of war, I would be called up for however long they needed."

The requirement to get back to the civilian sector is offset by strong, positive feelings about what he is doing while on active duty, Lee said.

"This is my contribution to the war on terrorism," Lee said. "I'm helping keep this base, the state of New Jersey and the country safe. We go out and we're guarding these aircraft and making sure they can take off when they are needed."

Still, he said, there is the call to get back to his civilian job.

"This is my job as a member of the U.S. Air Force," Lee said. "But I have a strong desire to get back to the police department, because I am so new on the job."

Others in Lee's unit feel the same way when considering what they left behind as part of their civilian career.

"Well you can't help but feel guilty that somebody else is back in your job pulling your weight," said Master Sgt. Michael Francis, noncommissioned officer in charge of anti-terrorism and investigation for the 177th SFS. "But the overall responsibility we have trained for is needed here, and that's paramount."

Francis is also with the Margate Police Department. While he has been on active duty, he has used his position as a senior NCO and leader to help younger Guard troops deal with the pressure of being on active duty for so long.

"You try to be a sounding board and listen to their problems," said Francis. "I allow them to voice their emotions, and I also share with them my experience as a young patrolman, and how my career is on hold now, like theirs is."

While Lee and Francis admit there is a strong desire to finish up with their duty to the Air Force and go back to work as police officers in the civilian sector, they understand their civilian jobs will be there for them when they get back.

"(I know) my civilian employers back me up." Lee said. "It makes me feel a lot better knowing that if I'm out here for two years, I'll have a job when I get back. My job as a police officer is still going to be there."