By Ed Brock
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph R. Inge was walking through an airport when a woman with two children approached him.
"She said she just wanted her children to see a soldier," Inge told the crowd of some 200 people attending Wednesday's quarterly breakfast meeting of the Association of the United States Army. "She didn't even know what my rank was. She just knew I was in a uniform, I was a soldier."
Inge is the commander of the First Army stationed at Army Garrison Fort Gillem that is charged with the training and preparation of Army Reserve soldiers in 27 states on the Eastern Seaboard, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The topic of his speech at the Fort McPherson Community Club at Fort Gillem's parent facility in Atlanta was the mobilization of those soldiers on missions around the world.
In a way, Inge said, that mobilization began with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"We knew we would be called when we saw those pictures on the television, just as our fathers and grandfathers knew they'd be called when they heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed," Inge said.
Inge talked about the many missions to which the troops are being sent, including everything from border patrols to the ongoing peacekeeping mission in Bosnia to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He reminded the reservists in the room to be ready and not to lose important documents such as shot records. He underscored that point by relating stories of reservists called to duty who had to take the necessary immunizing shots again because they didn't bring the record from previous shots.
"Just bring me a piece of toilet paper signed by two people and I'll take it," Inge said jokingly. "You never know when that phone is going to ring."
Also, Inge urged the officers and non-commissioned officers to do what they need to do to maintain readiness as well.
"How do you assess yourself and how do you assess your people, because that's how you determine what they need to do," Inge said.
And he adjured the officers to be consistent in their leadership, to make decisions and then do their best to stick by those decisions. He went on to talk about what he tells reservists who are called up but then not needed for combat.
"All of your grandparents pray every night that you don't have to go to war. You're grandparents' prayers have been answered," Inge said. "We're not a nation that wants to go to war. We're a peace loving people."
When the time came for questions from the audience, the first was on the problems faced by reservists who are being called to duty for longer periods of time and as a result lose their jobs or businesses.
Though some don't, most businesses do support their reservists, Inge said, but it's not easy.
"Go back and thank your employers," Inge said.
The other question from the audience was about the shortage of body armor being faced by combat troops. Inge said the body armor was relatively new technology that was not in much demand during its initial production. The industry is gearing up to decrease the shortage.
Inge also warned against the practice of some concerned families of buying body armor for their soldier sons and daughters off the Internet.
"If you don't know what you're buying and you don't know military standards you're going to get lesser equipment," Inge said.
Inge's speech hit home for Sgt. Yaritza Robles of Jonesboro.
"He made a good point that a lot of people forget the people who are deployed," said Robles who is stationed at Fort Gillem. "But since I have family and friends who are mobilized I make it a point to remember. They're always in my prayers, always in my thoughts."