FORT MEADE -- As a correctional officer at the Baltimore City Jail for the past 10 years, Roland S. Dobbins has risked his life watching over murderers, rapists and other unsavory characters in a notoriously overcrowded facility.
Yesterday, the 33-year-old father of four contemplated a new line of work. His job will be as a guard in a POW camp, overseeing captured Iraqi troops or civilians interned if war breaks out in the Saudi Arabian desert.
Which is the more dangerous occupation?
"You know, that's a good question," said Army Reserve Sgt. Dobbins, 33, a southwest Baltimore resident. "It's a real good comparison."
Sergeant Dobbins was one of more than 300 Maryland-based military reservists summoned last week to report to active duty. More specifically, he is a member of the 400th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit stationed at Fort Meade.
Last week's notification also included the 290th and 200th Military Police companies, Army National Guard units based in Towson and Salisbury.
For members of the 400th, a unit that specializes in handling prisoners of war, the greatest risk yesterday appeared to be a paper cut. With their official report date four days away, the former "weekend warriors" spent the weekend filling out multiple copies of mundane government forms.
Not that filling out forms is all that easy. Some of the lengthy and complicated documents required children's birth certificates, copies of divorce decrees and photographs of family members (for PX privileges). The erstwhile civilians even had to write out wills, a chilling reminder of the risks of combat.
Rick Doss, an electrical engineer from Woodbridge, Va., pored over papers with his wife, Betty, 14-year-old son, Steve, and lTC 4-year-old daughter, Laura, sitting beside him. One of his chief concerns was that his family would make ends meet while he is away.
Switching from an engineer's salary to that of an Army 1st lieutenant Wednesday will cause a "significant pay cut," said Lieutenant Doss, whose assignment will be maintaining electrical equipment, such as generators, lights and fencing, in a POW camp.
"You never expect something like this to happen. You're well aware of the possibilities, but you never really think about it."
Members of the military police unit have been told they will be training at Fort Meade before shipping out. Considering the unit's duties, the Persian Gulf and Operation Desert Shield is the likely destination, said Army Reserve Maj. Benjamin F. Overby, the battalion's executive officer.
Major Overby, a 35-year-old Gaithersburg resident, said the experience will be a considerable change from the 106-person unit's usual training methods, setting up tents in an open field and having soldiers role-play POWs.
"Our basic responsibility is to make sure the prisoners stay neutralized," said Major Overby, a program analyst for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in civilian life. "We are treating this as an extension of our training."
Like many of her fellow reservists, Bridget Jackson never expected to be activated, but she was aware that the odds changed considerably when Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait last summer. One of nine women who had reported to the 400th over the weekend, she will leave a 2-year-old daughter behind when she is activated Thursday.
"She's at an age where she's talking a lot, things that she does make you laugh," said Ms. Jackson of Severn, who works in a warehouse. "I know we're going to Saudi Arabia but I don't think it's going to really hit me until I get to the plane."
Maybe the most surprised family, belonged to Eugene De Crisci, a reserve master sergeant. The 55-year-old Elkridge resident was last called up for active duty in 1962, but only made it as far as an Army base in Georgia that time around.
"I didn't think it could happen to him again," said Johanna De Crisci, his wife. "He's got to do what he's got to do, and that's how I'm trying to accept it."
Mrs. De Crisci and her four children, ages 16 through 28, plan to use a fax machine at Columbia Mall to write often. One of Mr. De Crisci's daughters, 21-year-old Dana, said she hopes to record audio tapes and ship them to the desert.
"My dad's outrageously competent, but accidents happen," Miss De Crisci said. "This isn't like going away to college or something like that. He knows we'll be staying in touch."