Army reservist and law student Rich Murphy knew it would not be long before he would be activated for duty, but he never thought the call would come only one month after completing his basic training.
Murphy, former editor in chief of The Hatchet, is one of many student reservists across the country who have been called to service with the continuing military build-up around Iraq, forcing them to put their academic and social plans on hold as they are deployed.
“Our unit was on high alert for activation since January,” said Murphy, 23. “They tell you to start clearing up any commitments because you can be called up at any time. I had a lot of things to do.”
Dennis Geyer, University registrar, said “advisers and deans’ offices are very accommodating to reservists”‘ as a matter of policy.
Geyer said he is aware of two GW reservists who withdrew this semester to serve. Both students received full tuition refunds.
Murphy, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2001, now attends GW Law School. He entered the reserves soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks as a military policeman, whose duties include protecting military personnel, check point administration and POW camp security.
Last September, as the situation in Iraq intensified, Murphy was called for basic training.
“A big part is learning about the Geneva Convention and how to treat prisoners,” Murphy said. “Everyone gets POW training. We learn how to be police officers and then we learn combat.”
Murphy has not been told where he will be stationed, only that he was to report to Fort Dix in North Carolina for additional training and vaccinations.
Steven Jones, a 22-year-old naval reservist from New Orleans, is also on alert for deployment.
The most difficult part, Jones said, has been reconciling his feelings about the reasons for the possible conflict with his duty.
“When I joined, I knew there was the possibility I would be activated and I wouldn’t have the option to choose,” Jones said. “There are all sorts of issues involved that I don’t think have been made clear to the American people. Of course , it would be better if we didn’t have to go, if there was no need for war.”
Murphy said that while friends and family support his decision to serve, most oppose U.S. involvement in Iraq.
“My mother is really against the war. She goes to dozens of anti-war protests and we get in arguments all the time,” Murphy said. “That is okay with me. I give my life for that right to protest. I respectfully disagree. We are protecting her freedoms, and one of those freedoms is to criticize the government.”
Activation can also have psychological effects on soldiers who suddenly interrupt their lives to go to active duty.
Dr. Phillip Moore, associate professor of psychology, said armed conflict has a profound effect on life experience.
“War is one of the most significant human endeavors,” he said. “It involves almost every human import – relationships, jobs, life, injury, where one lives, immediate impact and the potential future. It is life-defining.”
The effect of war on each soldier is unclear.
“Different people will react differently to the same stimulus,” Moore said. “Some people will have a really tough time, some are incredibly resilient.”
“A soldier’s expectations become important, especially if what the soldier expects is less than what he experiences,” he said. “Some people may endure hardship or death, which is potentially devastating.”
Upon return to civilian life, a few soldiers may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, but “the majority of people who do come back do not exhibit psychological disorders,” Moore said.
“No one comes back unaffected,” he said. “In relation to student reservists, it may be more likely for someone who is younger to be more free to change what they are doing compared to someone who has roots like a family, kids and an employer. But you go from an intense survival mode to an environment which needs different strategies for success.”
Special legislation has been drafted to aid soldiers’ transition from civilian to military life.
The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940 grants a soldier the right to terminate a property lease for service. It also sets a reduced interest rate on credit card debt and loans while on active duty.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 guarantees reemployment for activated reservists upon their return.
But most reservists just want to do their duty and come home.
“I have a job to do,” Murphy said. “You can disagree with the war but support the troops. Those are two separate issues. Remember, we are citizen-soldiers, people’s friends and boyfriends, out there doing a job for our country.”
“I am putting my life on hold,” he said. “But this will be part of my life experience, too.”