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General discusses Reserve deployment options

By Ed Brock

U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Charles E. Wilson told a story about how Army Reserve deployments should not be handled.

During reserve callups for duty about a year or two ago a female soldier in the reserve returned home to find a FedEx package containing her orders and a plane ticket, Wilson said. Her husband came home that day to find that the kids were in daycare and his wife was gone to do her duty.

"He was shocked," Wilson said. "We were determined that that's not the way we should do soldiers. That's not the way we should do business."

Wilson, the deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Reserves Command at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, was the featured speaker at the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast on Thursday. His main topic was the Army Reserves' plans for a "predictability model" that will allow reservists and their employers to have a better idea of when the reservists will be called up for duty.

Reservists and their employers need predictability in order to determine the "window of availability for employment," Wilson said.

According to the predictability model, reservists would be allowed to choose from 10 "expeditionary packages." During a five-year period, the first three would be spent in training and assembling a force, the fourth would involve participation in a major training exercise and in the fifth year the reservists would be on standby for active duty.

"It's predictable, it's succinct and it's understood," Wilson said.

The average active duty rotation would be nine months, with one month for preparation, six months of actual use and then two months of "decompression" and transition back into civilian life.

Wilson said the plan could also include incentives like tax breaks for business with reservists as employees. It could be in place by October 2005.

The plan is one that's been in the works for some time and is finally coming to fruition, said Army Reservist Lance R. Austin.

"It's not going to be easy, everybody knows that, but it will work," Austin said.

Austin, a mortgage consultant with HomeBanc Mortgage Corporation, is a new chamber member and lives in Fayetteville. Last year he deployed with the 1015th Maintenance Company to Afghanistan for nine months.

He has had experiences similar to the story Wilson told about the female reserve soldier who was so suddenly yanked out of her life. But the manner of deployment has already been changing, Austin said.

"I haven't seen that since the first mobilization," Austin said.

Thursday's breakfast was once again held at the Continuing Education Building at Clayton College and State University in Morrow.

Many students at the college are reserve members and the new plan could work well for them as well, said Joan McElroy, who works in counseling and career services at the college.

"Maybe it wouldn't be quite as disruptive in their lives," McElroy said. "It would enable them not to have to stop school midstream. Now they might get called up in the middle of a semester."

According to his introduction on Thursday, Wilson is the first black deputy commanding general at the Reserve Command. He reported in August 2002 and before that he had served as commander of the Army Reserve's 98th Division in Rochester, N.Y. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Wilson also talked about the value of reservists as employees, saying they don't have drug problems, they come to work on time and understand the subordinate and superior relationship.

"When one of these soldiers walks through your door, this is what you get," Wilson said.

Wilson also talked about America as "a nation at war" and related his experiences being in Washington, D.C. during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when a commercial airliner crashed into the Pentagon.

"The next plane that flew over my head caused me to look up and wonder where it was going," Wilson said. "I made a decision not to live that way."