EAGLE BASE, Bosnia - Douglas Maser, a health care lawyer from Cleveland, runs the hospital. Char Norton, the owner of an international food service company in Houston, is the head nurse. Delonce Hines, a legal clerk from Philadelphia, inspects Bosnian Army weapons storage sites, and Raymond Hernandez, an air conditioning technician from Philadelphia, clears minefields.
Here, they are known as Colonel Maser, Colonel Norton, Specialist Hines and Corporal Hernandez, and all have been called up by the National Guard or Army Reserves, leaving jobs and families back home as they take over peace-keeping duties in Bosnia.
When SFOR (Stabilization Force), the NATO-led post-war peacekeeping mission, started here in 1996, the American component was manned mostly by regular army forces. National Guard and Reserve troops have gradually been taking over the duties, and this, the 12th rotation of American soldiers, is the first to be made predominantly of Guard members and Reservists.
Guard and Reserve units have taken over similar duties in Kosovo and the Sinai peninsula, filled in for active-duty troops in Germany that have been called elsewhere, and patrolled U.S. airspace.
Last week, American officials said an additional 8,000 to 10,000 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers would be activated next month to handle security at 163 U.S. Air Force installations around the United States and about a dozen in Europe. About 51,000 members of the Guard and Reserves are already on duty.
This increasing reliance on Guard and Reserve troops is too new for its effects to be accurately gauged, but it is raising questions about what purpose backup forces should serve in the 21st century.
For Maj. John Dowling, a public affairs officer at Eagle Base who works in public relations for the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development in Pittsburgh, this is his first deployment in 17 years as an Army Reservist.
"When I first joined in 1985, I thought we'd be fighting the Russians somewhere in the middle of Europe," he says. "Now the world is a different animal, and peacekeeping is a lot more important, so we've had to adjust."
The trend toward increasing use of the National Guard started at the end of the Cold War, when the Pentagon began to reduce the number of active-duty troops. But the pace has accelerated since Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2000, it was projected that by 2003 the backup component in Bosnia would comprise two-thirds of the troops stationed here. That the 1,800 U.S. soldiers here are nearly all backups speaks to how strapped for resources the U.S. military is.
"It's put relevancy in our jobs," says Command Sgt. Maj. Horace Pysher of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, based in Harrisburg, which commands the U.S. forces in Bosnia. "Some of our soldiers have put in 20 years of training, and maybe they did some flood relief or something like that, but this is their first chance to do something for national defense."
Most of the soldiers who came to Eagle Base had a choice, because many units that were mobilized needed to bring just a fraction of their members and brought only those who volunteered. Soldiers say they were happy to come, or at least felt a responsibility to do so.
"You will always have a percentage who will grumble, but most of the people stepped up," says Pysher, who in civilian life is assistant executive director of the Cambria County Solid Waste Authority in Pennsylvania.
"I collected a paycheck for 21 years, and it was time to give something back," says Norton, the head nurse who is in the Army Reserves.
But some warn that asking National Guard and Reserve soldiers to take on longer assignments farther from home could hurt morale.
"Part-time reservists are being turned into full-time soldiers and airmen through extended and unpredictable active-duty assignments," wrote Republican Rep. David L. Hobson of Ohio in an open letter this year to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "Such treatment is rapidly killing the morale of the Reserves and eliminates the support of family, friends and employers."
Eagle Base does what it can to stop that from happening. To stave off homesickness, it offers basketball and football leagues, aerobics classes, and classes in Serbo-Croatian and computers. It has even staged a fashion show.
Sgt. Jamie Allen, a customer service representative for AT&T who lives in Jackson, Miss., and belongs to the National Guard, keeps busy with a gospel choir, a church theater group and regular exercise.
Some soldiers have taken the opportunity to get in shape - Allen has lost 20 pounds in Bosnia. Others are taking care of nagging health problems, and elective surgery is common
"You'd be surprised how many vasectomies we've done," says head nurse Norton.