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The days of a reservist 'hiding place' are long gone

John Church is a Marine reservist who will be president of Valley Forge Military College after completing his active-duty assignment in Washington

John Church

is a Marine reservist who will be president of Valley Forge Military College after completing his active-duty assignment in Washington

In The Nightingale's Song, author Robert Timberg reviews the lives of five U.S. Naval Academy graduates who served the nation during the tumult of Vietnam and later during the Reagan administration.

Timberg noted the thoughts of a fellow combat-decorated Vietnam Marine, James Webb, a novelist, Navy secretary in the 1980s, and now a Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia.

Timberg and Webb both wrote of the wall that forever remains between those who went to Vietnam and those who didn't. In his searing novel, Fields of Fire, Webb allowed a character to belt out his frustration and decry that "[President] Johnson didn't have the guts" to call up the reserves. This fictional outburst insinuates that since Middle America could readily avoid harm's way through deferments and Reserve or National Guard service, the war was fought by the poor, the uneducated, and other misfits of the Great Society.

Into this still all-too-present cultural divide steps Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general who is seeking to replace Chris Dodd in the U.S. Senate.

As reported first by the New York Times and then admitted to by Blumenthal, he has, on a number of occasions, falsely given the impression that he served in Vietnam. He was in the Marine Corps Reserve, but he did not serve in Vietnam.

I'll let others take him to task for his statements and his justification for them. I want to talk about the reserves.

In Blumenthal's time, the reserves were considered by some a place to "hide" from active duty, for the reason Webb so bluntly offered. The reserves, and particularly the Marine Corps Reserve, are no longer considered a refuge.

The U.S. Marine Corps Concepts and Programs 2010 proffers that ". . . the ethos for the Marine Corps Reserve is mobilization and combat readiness." It calls the Reserve a "full partner of the Marine Corps' total force." In The Post Modern Military: Armed Forces After the Cold War, military analyst John Allen Williams lauds the contribution of reservists, noting they bring highly valued skills forward during a time of critical need.

I offer my own service as one example. As a Reserve officer, I have deployed to the Balkans twice, Iraq twice, and, most recently, Afghanistan. My experience is not unique. The Marine Corps could not maintain its operational readiness nor meet its commitments to the nation without its Reserve component.

The call to serve is not without cost. Periods of active duty strain families and civilian careers. However, it can be done and done well. I witnessed Reserve Marines perform exemplary service recently in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

It is still possible to serve a few years in the Reserve and avoid an overseas assignment. But it's very rare. I know of one case in which a Marine spent the last decade on both active and then reserve status without serving in either Iraq and Afghanistan. He had hoped to maintain this record, but during his unit's most recent deployment his commanding officer rightly counseled that ". . . there is no junior varsity in the Corps. If a Marine can't deploy, he or she can't be in this command. There is no B team in this unit."

This rigid standard is exactly what the Marine Corps and nation deserve and need.

Recently, I joined family and friends in celebrating the christening of twins Elizabeth and Caroline Cahir. Sadly, all greatly missed their father, Marine Sgt. William Cahir. He was killed in Afghanistan. He was a reservist who was deployed after he lost a bid for Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District.

Selfless acts of bravery from heroes like Bill Cahir erode any wall that may have once stood between Marines. The memory of Elizabeth and Caroline's father serves the nation better than the inaccurate recollections of politicians, and tells us all we need to know about today's reservists.