Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Uncle Sam pointed and he stepped up


Back in the Army, 8 years later

By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer

[IMAGE] Jim Dillinger
(Enquirer photo)
MOUNT ORAB -About a third of the former soldiers being called back to active duty haven't reported yet, but Jim Dillinger is answering the call today.

The 43-year-old former Ohio National Guardsman, who resigned his captain's commission eight years ago, will say goodbye to his wife and three children and board a commercial flight for Fort Jackson, S.C.

It will be the first stop on an 18-month journey that will take him to Iraq, along with thousands of other former soldiers of the Individual Ready Reserve."It's hard to believe, but it's for real," Dillinger said Saturday night, surrounded by dozens of family and friends who had gathered for a going-away party at American Legion Post 755 in Sardinia, the Brown County village where Dillinger once served as police chief.

Dillinger, now a plant security specialist at Batavia Transmissions LLC, 12 miles east of his Mount Orab home, might seem an unlikely candidate for service in Iraq, eight years after he last wore a soldier's uniform.

But when Dillinger left his National Guard unit, , he went on Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) status - meaning that he could be called back to active duty any time.

In May, the Pentagon announced that about 5,600 men and women of the IRR would be called up.

ABOUT THIS REPORT
In August, Enquirer readers met Jim Dillinger, a 43-year-old former soldier from Mount Orab who is being called back to active duty for a tour in Iraq. Today, he leaves for training at Fort Jackson, S.C. The Enquirer will check in with Dillinger and his family periodically to see how they are faring in what likely will be an 18-month separation.
Officials said they would be former soldiers with skills in high demand in Iraq - military police, medical specialists and engineers, which was Dillinger's Ohio National Guard specialty.

Last month, when the first batch of 1,662 reservists was scheduled to report to Fort Jackson, only 1,038 had done so.

By Oct. 5, 1,143 had reported for duty. Pentagon officials have said they might prosecute some of the no-shows.

Like many of the IRR who have received call-ups, Dillinger filed for an exemption based on family hardship. Because he resigned his captain's commission eight years ago, he will return to the Army as a sergeant.

Dillinger makes about $4,800 a month at Batavia Transmissions LLC; his base pay as a sergeant will be $2,362 a month. His employers have told him they will make up the difference for six months, which is more than most private employers do.

His last weekend at home was a bittersweet one, a mix of scrambling to prepare for departure, laughter and hugs with old friends, and quiet time at home with his wife, Tammy, and their children - Sarah, 18, Rachael, 16, and Justin, 11.

Dillinger was on the sidelines Saturday afternoon at the Western Brown Peewee football field for Justin's game. He never misses one of his son's games or practice sessions.

But Saturday was the last game he will see for a while.

At halftime, he was surprised when Peewee officials called him out to the 50-yard line and presented him with a stack of phone cards to take to Iraq, before the crowd of parents and grandparents rose from their lawn chairs to give him a standing ovation.

"I never expected anything like that,'' Dillinger said. "It blew me away.''

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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