President Bush's authorization late Friday to extend the maximum length of time reservists serve from 180 days to two years has effectively put two Utah doctors out of business, Rep. Wayne Owens was told Saturday.
During a sometimes-heated town meeting in the West Valley City Council Chambers, a local Air Force reservist who is to report for duty on Monday told Owens that Bush's decision to extend reservists' tour of duty will "put five people in my office out of work and leave my patients to find other care." The man said he is a physician and that such an action "will effectively kill my practice."The reservist, who did not identify himself during the discussion, said his partner - also a reservist - was called up in August, leaving him to care for all of the office's patients.
"We've become the draft pool. When we signed up to be citizen soldiers, this was not what we signed up to be. I employ five people, and my partner is already over there. What do we do?" he asked Owens, who said he was surprised to hear of the extension.
The reservist said when the briefing on the extension was made, officials said there would be certain exceptions to the policy, and used as an example the case of an office of four physicians, all of whom were reservists. "I applied for an exemption for that very reason, yet I was turned down.
"The whole idea of the guard and reserve and what they are there for has changed without the people (who signed up) knowing it has changed . . . Rather than being the backup (to full-time military personnel), with this conflict, they are the frontline soldiers," the reservist said.
"I'll look at that point further," Owens responded.
Bush's authorization also allows the Pentagon to put up to 1 million reserves in active duty, although officials said there are no plans for such an extensive call-up. Of the 450,000 U.S. military personnel in the gulf region, about 150,000 are reservists.
As the discussion on reservists vs. draftees progressed, Owens said he agreed with some of those present that the use of the guard has been an easy a way for the President and the Congress to avoid instituting the draft. He said there are a few such rumblings now in Congress, but that such a move would be politically unworkable at this point, and he would not support it.
Still, he said, "If it is a sustained war, I believe you will see the draft reinstituted."
Owens told the crowd of about 30 people that U.S. forces are composed of some 2.1 million full-time military personnel and 1.7 million National Guard and Reserve soldiers. He pointed out that 30 percent of the military is composed of blacks, who represent only 19 percent of the nation's population.
As participants badgered him with questions about the inequity of having a "working-class only" military, made up largely of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, Owens said there are "sociological reasons to rethink the draft. I just keep hoping that I'm wrong, and that the war will be easy and fast and semipainless."