Families Protest Extended Deployments
WASHINGTON – More than two dozen people, wearing yellow ribbons and pictures of relatives in the Army Reserves (search), took their discontent to the top Monday to protest their loved ones' extended deployments in the Iraq war zone.
They said they were satisfied with results of the session, even though Lt. Gen. James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserves, gave them no assurances that the 94th Military Police Company (search) will be brought home by the Fourth of July.
"They've been deployed for a very long time. They're tired, and they feel like they've done their part," said Bob Wennerstrand of Norwood, Mass., whose son, Derek, 20, left home soon after his high school graduation and has been gone for 1 1/2 years. "We asked the general to look into it, and the general has agreed to do that."
Army Reserve spokesman Al Schilf said specialized companies like the 94th, which provides combat support and escorts convoys, were kept in Iraq (search) longer because of their particular expertise.
Helmly told the families he is going to Iraq soon and will visit the unit to check on its service time. He also told them, however, that he "can't guarantee their return dates; this is war."
Family members came off their bus at the Pentagon on Monday loaded with lists of other military police units that have served and come home and talk of active duty soldiers who served one-year missions and left Iraq.
Members of the 94th have had their military missions extended twice. Should they return home in October, as currently scheduled, they will have served 685 days, just short of two years.
They came achingly close to going home at Easter. Michael Lee already had mailed his personal belongings to his wife in Reading, Mass. The company's equipment was loaded, and the reservists were 10 hours from boarding a plane, when the order came to wait.
On Easter Sunday, Jennifer Lee got the call saying her husband wasn't coming home.
"This unit is being completely overlooked," said Lee, who was five months pregnant when her husband left. Their daughter, Charlotte, already is 15 months old.
"The families demanded this meeting, and rightfully so," said Army Reserve spokeswoman Maj. Kristen Carle. "We need to address the families' concerns right up front."
During the long, 10-hour bus ride from Tewksbury, Mass., family members made the photo buttons they wore into the meetings. Some carried 8-by-10-inch photos of their soldiers. Some wore patriotic pins.
"It's extremely frustrating. We're really concerned about their safety," said Stephen Lapinsky, whose son Joshua is in Iraq. "But considering the emotion going through most of the people here, it was a good meeting. There was no screaming. There was a little bit of crying. People miss their soldiers."
Joshua Lapinsky sent his foot locker home at Easter, and it's still there, locked, filled with his belongings.
"We'll leave it that way until Joshua comes home to open it," his sister, Angela Lapinsky, said.