Older reservists feel call of duty, volunteering to deploy full time

For Sgt. Alan Krambeer, serving in the Colorado Army National Guard just wasn't enough -- especially when his son was being sent to Afghanistan.

Krambeer, 46, volunteered for a nine-month, active-duty tour that begins this summer and will put him in the same unit as his son. Krambeer, who spent seven years in the Army in the late 1980s and early 1990s and joined the reserves in 2007, is one of a growing number of older, once-active soldiers who are returning to full-time duty from the reserves. Many say they just can't stand by while younger, less experienced men and women go off to fight for their country. And military officials say the nation benefits from their experience and know-how.

“I’m very patriotic, and I wanted to be deployed,” said Krambeer, who performs highway maintenance for the Colorado Department of Transportation in his civilian life. He will resume that job after a nine-month tour beginning this summer as a helicopter refueler.

“I feel strongly about giving back," he continued. "People will protest about a lot of things, but talk is cheap, and sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and do what’s got to be done. Actions speak louder than words.”

"Sometimes you just have to step up to the plate. . ."

— Army Sgt. Alan Krambeer

Krambeer’s sentiment is echoed by a growing number in the country’s reserve forces -- which include the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Naval Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve -- who have made the decision to volunteer. For reservists past the age of 30 and well-established in civilian careers, the decision can be logistically challenging. In Krambeer’s case, the Colorado Department of Transportation has agreed to hold his position for him until he returns.

Army Capt. Dave Foster, who left active duty in 2002 and joined the Army Reserves a year ago, faced his own challenges when deciding whether to deploy. Foster, married with two children, ages 2 and 4, along with a civilian job running an economic development agency in Camden, N.J., had for many years wrestled with the decision. The final push was a Navy League dinner last fall honoring a Marine killed in Afghanistan along with the family of another fallen Marine. The event included veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Persian Gulf and Vietnam. Asked how many tours he had completed, Foster, 34, acknowledged he had never deployed. A few weeks later, he made the decision to volunteer for a six-month tour as part of a unit that promotes political and economic reform in Afghanistan.

“I was motivated to deploy by an unfilled pledge to serve,” Foster wrote via email from Afghanistan. “I raised my right hand and agreed to defend my country in 1996, yet ten years after the attacks of 9/11 an entire generation of soldiers had gone off to war and I didn't feel like I had done my part to share in that sacrifice,” wrote Foster, whose board at the economic development agency agreed to hold his position for him until he returns.

According to the most recent activation report from the Defense Manpower Data Center, as of April 10, there were 71,981 reservists deployed as part of Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. The former includes military activities related to homeland security and support to federal, state and local agencies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, while the latter covers ongoing actions in Afghanistan and against terrorists in other countries, as well as training assistance to foreign militaries conducting operations against terrorists. Of the reservists deployed, 15,387 -- 21.4 percent -- are listed as voluntary.

Lt. Col. Bernd Zoller, 48, who works in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, explained that reservists and Guard members who want to deploy are welcomed, regardless of age. “We don’t really care why you want to serve, it’s your desire that can bring you into the force,” Zoller said.

While reservists ages 20 to 29 make up close to half -- 44 percent -- of all reservists deployed, Zoller spoke of the importance of older volunteers. “The value of life experiences, and being through different experiences, than someone right out of high school or college, it lends a certain value to the deployment in terms of working with your fellow service members, in knowing how life operates,” he said.

Part of Krambeer’s active duty included patrolling the border between East and West Germany prior to reunification, so he was a firsthand witness to the radically different levels of liberty that can exist even among countries geographically close. “Freedom of speech doesn’t come without a price,” Krambeer said. “I believe in that freedom.”

For Foster, who is roughly halfway through his six-month tour, the experience has been positive. “The deployment so far has exceeded my expectations,” he wrote. “It has been particularly fulfilling to meet and work with some of the extraordinary young soldiers who are out on the front lines every day. It makes you realize what is truly great about our country.”