Monday, February 24, 2003

Ohio Military Reserve needs a few good recruits



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They are soldiers who buy their own uniforms; soldiers who never get a paycheck. And they are almost never called to active duty. Members of the Ohio Military Reserve - ranging in age from 17 to 67 - are a back-up unit of "citizen soldiers'' who have been around for 200 years, under the command of Ohio's governors.

They spend weekends training and marching, just in case their services as military policemen and medics are needed.

"When and if we are needed, we'll be ready,'' said Bill Pewther of Mount Washington, a retired U.S. Army sergeant major who spent nearly 50 years on active duty and in the Army Reserves before joining the state unit.

On Sunday, the Ohio Military Reserve's 11th Military Police Battalion held an open house at its headquarters at the Ohio Air National Guard station in Blue Ash, in hopes of drawing some new recruits.

There are only about 500 Ohio Military Reserve members statewide and the organization wants to build its membership up to about 1,000, Pewther said.

Both the Ohio National Guard and the Ohio Military Reserve are under the command of the governor, but only the National Guard can be "federalized'' - called to active duty by the U.S. Department of Defense.

If the entire National Guard were called to federal duty, the governor could call on the Ohio Military Reserve to perform the normal state duties of the Guard - assisting in natural disasters such as floods and tornados, riot control and responding to man-made disasters like terrorist attacks.

But it is highly unlikely that Gov. Bob Taft will have to turn to the Ohio Military Reserve anytime soon.

So far, about 2,400 members of the Army and Air National Guard in Ohio have been activated, with many of them being deployed overseas to serve in an increasingly likely war with Iraq.

It is about 800 more guardsmen than were called to federal duty from Ohio 12 years ago in the Persian Gulf War, but with nearly 16,000 Army and Air National Guard members in Ohio, the services of the Ohio Military Reserve are not likely to be needed.

Still, the men and women of the Ohio Military Reserve put in their obligatory eight hours of training a month.

"We never know when we will be needed, but these are some of the most dedicated people I've ever known in a military setting, so they do what they have to do,'' Pewther said.

Part of the function is to provide support for military convoys moving through Ohio and assist in family support for Guard units that have been called to active duty, Pewther said, "which could become necessary if the United States ends up going to war. And it sure looks like we will.''

Most of the members are people like Pewther who have served in the regular military before.

"We get people who kind of miss the military atmosphere,'' Pewther said.

"They want to have a taste of it again, without the restrictions of joining the (federal) Reserves or the Guard.''

The members of the Ohio Military Reserve receive no pay, although they would if they were ever called to active duty by the governor.

"There's no monetary incentive to enlist; you're not going to get a free college education or anything like that,'' Pewther said. "All you get is the satisfaction that you are serving your state and your country.''

E-mail: hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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