Families protest Iraq deployment extension for reservists
WASHINGTON (AFP) Sep 24, 2003
Hundreds of families of US reservists and National Guard soldiers are protesting against an order extending their stay in Iraq to a year or more as casualties mount.

Six month overseas tours were the norm before the Iraq war and the new order only applies to reservists sent to Iraq.

Discontent about the extended deployments is spreading across Florida, Kansas, Minnesota and other states, family members said, with protest websites set up and lawmakers lobbied to get a change.

Some family members have also voiced surprise at duties being carried out in Iraq as the White House seeks another 87 billion dollars for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq.

Having to haul a golf kart on a tank transporter or a Sports Utility Vehicle belonging to senior officers angered some, according to the wife of one serviceman in Iraq.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat and former Army officer, met with some 100 National Guard relatives Monday who oppose the extended tours.

Some family members who met Nelson also voiced criticism that their reservist husbands do not have bullet proof vests like those issued to regular troops in Iraq.

Nelson and Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas have sought a meeting and answers from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Moore wrote to Rumsfeld this month expressing concern at the "care, and morale of our deployed troops."

The lawmakers have yet to receive a response.

"Every theatre is going to be different based on the mission requirements and the security situation there," US Army spokeswoman Alison Bettencourt said.

"In times of war, military families and military servicemen themselves are asked to make great sacrifices and I think that everyone at this level recognises that," Bettencourt stressed.

However, family protests continue to grow.

One Kansas group recently set up www.129bringthemhome.com which had gathered 10,038 signatures by Tuesday, a gain of 945 signatures compared with late Monday.

The site calls on the Pentagon not to deploy reservists in Iraq for over a year.

Newlywed Amanda Bellew -- whose husband Specialist Jason Bellew is serving in Iraq with the 129th Transportation Company, a reserve unit, said her husband had signed up as a reservist and not as a full-time soldier.

"We don't agree with what is going on with reservists and the National Guard and we're going to stand up to try and fight for what we believe in," Bellew told AFP.

She said the website was set up by families of reservists in Iraq and that they hope to gather 50,000 signatures.

Bellew and other families with relatives in the 129th met Congressman Moore last weekend to vent their frustrations.

Simultaneously, National Guard officers at Camp Ripley in Minnesota met with some 200 relatives at the military base where relatives also aired discontent with the longer deployments.

The army announced on July 23 that tours of duty for thousands of Army Reserve and National Guard troops in Iraq would be extended.

The policy extended the 12-month mobilisation of reserves by between three to six months up to a maximum period of two years.

Families oppose the order because the Army starts counting the deployment period when boots hit the ground in Iraq and not when reservists leave home to report for duty.

Bellew pointed out that her husband had already been on duty for four months at Fort Riley in Kansas before he went to the Middle East in April.

"We think this time should count," Bellew said in reference to the four months her husband spent at Fort Riley.

Some 20,000 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Kuwait out of a total US army presence of 127,000 troops.

Senator Nelson is so concerned with the extended deployments that he is ready to put the nomination of US Army Secretary James Roche on hold unless it is modified, according to a spokeswoman for the senator.

Other congressional opponents have said the extended deployments are likely to dent morale and could hit reenlistment rates and recruitment.

The anti-war coalition, Win Without War, will launch a national campaign Wednesday calling on the transfer of the US' governing authority in Iraq to the United Nations as well as seeking Rumsfeld's dismissal.