BILL MOYERS: As everyone knows, politics and the weather collided this week. Hurricane Gustav had Republicans ducking for cover, fearing that a repeat of the Katrina calamity would conjure bad memories, so they delayed the start of their national convention by a day. In advance of Gustav, nearly 16,000 members of the Army National Guard were sent to the Gulf Coast to ensure the public's safety. Thousands of others are ready to be deployed along the southeast seaboard watching out for two more hurricanes, Hanna and Ike. This, of course, is the Guard's primary mission — to be a standing, domestic defense force that each state's governor can call on when the need arises, especially in cases of natural disaster. But since 9/11, an estimated 220,000 National Guard soldiers have been sent by the Defense Department to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guard's absence from home has created financial and emotional hardship for these citizen soldiers and their families. It's also created a bind for state governments dependent on the Guard's personnel and equipment. New Jersey, for example, has just seen the departure of half its National Guard to Iraq. Inspired by a series of articles in a local newspaper, The Bergen Record, our producer William Brangham spent some of the final days and weeks with the New Jersey Guard as they prepared to pack up and ship out.
MIGUEL RAMOS: My name is Miguel Ramos. I'm a police officer here in the city of Passaic. And I'm also in the National Guard. I've been in since December 17th of 1999. The major reason was, you know, I felt like if I went that route, I didn't have struggle too much to be able to pay for college. So that was one of my main reasons for joining, so you know, lookin' for the one weekend a month, maybe put a little bit of extra cash in my pocket. And it backfired on me.
BEVERLEY CURL: These are all the birth certificates...
I'm Sergeant Beverley Curl. In 1989, when I graduated high school, my girlfriend, we happened to be walkin' by the recruiters one day. Let's walk in and see what they're all about. And we joined on the buddy program. And that was it. That was 18 years ago. They've paid for school. The Guard has been good to me. I tell my friends all the time, "I totally believe that everybody should serve some time in the military." It's good character building, it's really good. I don't have a problem with it. I don't want to go to Iraq. I'm not gonna say, "Oh yes, I want to go, I want to go." I don't want to go. I don't want to leave my husband, my son, all the family. But I'm packed, I'm ready, as ready as I'm gonna be I guess, to go.
ROY PARKS: My name's Gilroy Robert Parks, E5, Sergeant. Every morning when I come in to work, I stare at the picture and it reminds me when I was at 9/11, it keeps me going. I had four years regular Army. I figured, part time job, one weekend in a month, two weeks in the summer. I'm going back to Iraq for my second tour. It's hard. Hopefully by the time I'm get done with this deployment, I'll have my 20 years in, I'll have my letter and I can retire. I thought about retiring, but I dunno, probably when I get back, I might probably change my mind.
BILL MOYERS: Earlier this summer, nearly half of New Jersey's 6000 National Guard soldiers and their families gathered at the Fort Dix Army Base for an official goodbye.
ADJUTANT GENERAL GLEN REITH: Speaking on behalf of these great Americans, let me say thank you, each and every one of you for taking part in this historic deployment ceremony of almost 3,000 citizen soldiers that make up the 50th Brigade Combat Team.
BILL MOYERS: They're called "Citizen Soldiers" because they live two lives, in two different worlds. They're neighbors down the street. Mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters. They're accountants and cops, teachers and mechanics.
But they're also part-time soldiers: one weekend a month and two weeks every summer, they put on their uniforms and train. And anytime, when disaster strikes, the state can call them to duty:
VARIOUS SOLDIERS: The National Guard are the ones that are there...We put ourselves right into the heart of the storm...If the community calls on you, wherever we're needed, they know you're there...Any kind of natural disaster...major hurricanes...blizzards...earthquakes...flood relief... airport security, search and rescue...the war on terrorism... the National Guard is there... I'm proud to be in the National Guard.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team! These are your soldiers, folks!
GENERAL REITH: You are truly Jersey's finest, you are the hometown team, there is no question in my mind that you'll make all of New Jersey and our nation proud.
BILL MOYERS: For six years now, America has found itself with too many wars and too few warriors, and so the Army National Guard has been called on to shoulder an unprecedented load. Of all the soldiers sent to Iraq this year alone nearly half are from the National Guard. Many of these 2,800 New Jersey guard are going back for their second or third tours.
GENERAL REITH: We're incredibly proud of each and every one of you, and thank you so much for your service. Hooah!
BILL MOYERS: For the families, there's just a few precious days left before their soldiers head to Texas, and one more round of training before shipping out from there to Iraq.
TINA PARKS: My husband is going away for the second time to serve his country. I worry about my children, how they feel. You know, I have to be a strong person and know he's serving his country. I'm very proud of him for that.
BILL MOYERS: Tina is married to Roy Parks. Their son Matthew is twelve. They have a week left together before Roy leaves for his second tour.
TINA PARKS: Matthew, you gonna help daddy pack?
MATT PARKS: I'm proud of my dad, that he's getting ready to go. You know everybody always comes up to me, and says, oh, your dad's in Iraq you must be so proud of him and I'm like yeah, but also it kind of stinks because you don't have him around and its weird talking to your mom about guy problems and all that.
ROY PARKS: The camera, the case, I think it's over there.
MATT PARKS: You know, he's my dad, I'm proud of him, he's my hero.
BILL MOYERS: Roy's last tour of duty began in 2004 and he came home in '06. If this deployment lasts as long, he will have been away for three of the past six years.
ROY PARKS: That's me and Matthew just before I left.
MATT PARKS: That's how he wakes me up.
ROY PARKS: Used to.
MATT PARKS: Used to.
ROY PARKS: Getting so big.
TINA PARKS: What I went through at that time. You know smiling in that picture, but inside I'm crying because I just don't want to let him go. You know, he said "This will be the only time, honey," but it's not working out that way.
ROY PARKS: She is my best friend. My soul mate. And I can't imagine not being with or without her. And it's hard when I'm away. I always worried that she's okay and am I puttin' a lotta stress on her? How's she doing at home? Is she worryin' about me? And she'll make, she'll do good. I worried a little bit. But deep back in my mind, I know she'll be alright.
ROY PARKS: [at work as a maintenance man]House 14, Room 11, window needs to be replaced. Big window.
BILL MOYERS: Roy's been a maintenance man at Rutgers University for ten years, but when times were tight, he's taken on other jobs.
ROY PARKS: 10-4
BILL MOYERS: Before his last tour in Iraq, Roy was holding down three jobs: This one at Rutgers, a night shift at a Blockbuster video store, and Saturdays at Toys-R-Us.
When guard soldiers get deployed, their civilian salaries stop, and Army pay kicks in. But for a lot of those families, that means a considerable pay cut. For example, when Roy was in Iraq before, his Army pay was less than his combined income from those three jobs. So for the year and a half he was away serving his country, the Parks family say they had to absorb about a 25% pay cut.
ROY PARKS: Bills will still be there. Everything's a little bit more expensive now. Just gotta watch everything. Gotta make sure bills get paid and the kids got clothes and food and there's electricity and everybody's comfortable, the gas is in the cars. And I know that's gonna be expensive. You know, it's tough, a lot of families gotta adjust.
BILL MOYERS: Roy gets a small subsidy because he works for the State University. All New Jersey State employees get this help if they're called up for duty. The subsidy lasts for a few months, but it doesn't cover the wages he loses from his two other jobs. And Roy's among the lucky ones. According to a national survey of employers, if the employer offers Citizen Soldiers any financial help at all, two-thirds of them cut off that help after just two weeks. And the nation's biggest employer of National Guard soldiers is equally tightfisted. The federal government offers only a few weeks help to the thousands of its citizen soldiers when they're called to duty. So if this deployment is like the last, it's going to be a tough year for the Parks family.
RONNIE MICCIULLA: When Roy was away last time, Tina at times found it very difficult financially to keep the family afloat.
Hey everyone, the truck is here, let's get it loaded!
BILL MOYERS: Ronnie Micciulla runs a volunteer charity organization called A.R.M.S. — they're a group of veterans who raise money and goods for soldiers serving abroad, and for their families left at home.
RONNIE MICCIULLA: Tina, she would come over. We had a food pantry over at the armory. She would come over and take as much as she needed. Anybody could. But we helped them out. Made sure that they had food for their family. There were times she'd come to us and say, "You know, these are all great items, but I don't have any money for meat or fresh fruit." So we would go to their Family Readiness Group and ask for a check. We really tried to help out.
BILL MOYERS: Tina works as an administrator at an assisted living facility, and when Roy leaves, she'll be the main breadwinner for the family. The Parks expect they'll still need help from charities like A.R.M.S. throughout the next year.
RONNIE MICCIULLA: It's sinful. It's sinful when I have to watch these poor families whose husbands are over there really struggling. And you know what? It's hard enough giving up the one you love for a year. That's hard enough. They shouldn't have to worry about, "How am I gonna put food on the table?"
MIKE KELLY: This is really a story of people jumping tracks. They're jumping tracks from the civilian life to the military life, and sometimes the dollars and the salaries, don't quite equate.
BILL MOYERS: Mike Kelly has been a columnist and reporter for The Bergen Record newspaper for nearly 20 years. For much of this year, he's been reporting on this massive call up of the New Jersey National Guard, and the effect it's having on soldiers' families.
MIKE KELLY: The fact that we're fighting the war is hard enough. You think about the fact that the families of soldiers who are left behind have to go to a food pantry to get enough food to put on the table, that in and of itself is a bit of an American tragedy.
BILL MOYERS: Kelly points out that the economics of National Guard service cut both ways: Some soldiers do suffer financially but others end up doing better. He says many of the soldiers he's met were drawn to the Guard by the promise of free college tuition, or by a healthy signing bonus — which can be twenty-thousand dollars for some enlistees. But Kelly's also picked up a third reason people join.
MIKE KELLY: There are people here who want to jump out of the ordinariness of their lives. They wanna serve. They wanna do something more than what they're doing in their lives right now. And so they've joined the Guard as a way of service. There's one guy whose a senior accountant — he's 38 years old — he's a senior accountant at a major engineering firm right here in Bergen County. It's interesting why he joined the Guard. He had some bills to pay off, but he also told me, he says, "I wanna do something bigger. I wanna have an effect on people's lives that goes far beyond my job and my family."
BILL MOYERS: Kelly's reporting has also touched on a larger political issue playing out across the country. As the Pentagon has repeatedly shipped National Guard units to the Middle East, they're no longer available for their primary mission here at home.
MAN: When disaster is in the air you can count on things getting rough and you can count on the Army National Guard. Often the guard is first on the scene, saving lives and restoring hope. So if you've ever wished you can help — you can.
BILL MOYERS: State governors across the country are worried they'll be left short-handed if an emergency strikes here at home. Many of those governors — including Democrat Jon Corzine of New Jersey — have taken a public stand.
Quote "The fact that we continue to have the kind of overuse of our National Guard is just a mistake. I think it is undermining...the basic purpose of the National Guard, which is to protect local and state elements..."
MIKE KELLY: Governor Corzine has said that he's concerned that they're leaving kind of a hole in the state safety net that if there is a hurricane or there's a major blizzard, or there's a major flood, that he won't have 2,800 soldiers to call on, that those 2,800 soldiers will be over in Iraq. There's also concern on the part of some police departments that they may be strapped for cops, because too many of them have been called to service in the National Guard. And I think, for many local officials and governors not only in New Jersey but around the country, they have to start asking this question "How do we, you know, pull together this safety net back home when we call upon the Guard to go overseas and basically act as an extension of the regular army?"
BEVERLEY CURL: The Guard is to take care of Jersey, to take care of your state. That's what you're here for.
BILL MOYERS: Sergeant Beverley Curl is a buyer for a grocery chain. When she enlisted, she'd seen those ads and thought she'd be helping her home state.
BEVERLEY CURL: It's Jersey, you know, we're supposed to stay in Jersey. The regular Army is to take care of things that happen worldwide. And I understand that the regular Army is stressed, and they're pulled at the seams, or whatever. But then, what happens, God forbid, if something happens to New Jersey? You're taking most of the troops out of the state, so what happens then? So, no, I don't think the Guard should be there. Simple, I don't. I believe they should be in the state to do what they're supposed to do for this state. But you gotta go, you gotta go, so.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: Well, I think all of us thought of protecting our country. I make a joke with the soldiers when they say, "I didn't join to do this." I said, "You didn't read the fine print." It didn't say where we would protect our country.
BILL MOYERS: Minnie Hiller-Cousins has been in the National Guard for almost thirty years. She's a Master Sergeant, with one tour in Iraq behind her.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: Good evening everyone!
BILL MOYERS: Here at the Teaneck Armory in New Jersey, she tells her soldiers it's useless arguing whether the Guard should be in Iraq or not. Orders are orders and they're going.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: "Weekend warriors" we are not. We have proven that we are not "weekend warriors."
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: There you go.
In reality, we're here to protect our country at all costs. When I was in Iraq, New Orleans was under water. Sitting around I could hear kids saying, "I know we're going home. We're going back to our country to help our country." But in fact, we are helping our country. We were there on a mission ordered by the President. We train for all missions and this is our mission.
BILL MOYERS: In her civilian life, Minnie is a counselor at a local high school. But in uniform, her job is to help these soldiers and their families get ready for a long separation.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: If you're not talking to your children, you need to talk to them. We're at the point now where the stress level is rising with the soldier and the family. We know we're gonna have a lot a tears. But we wanna make sure that everyone, through the tears, remains healthy.
BILL MOYERS: It's not an easy job — plenty of the soldiers in her unit face family circumstances requiring some serious attention.
Specialist Miguel Ramos is one of those policemen being shifted from their local beat to the Middle East. For Ramos, it's not so much taking off his badge that has him distressed, as it is leaving behind someone who depends on him: his younger sister, Sarah.
SARAH RAMOS: Kind of always looked up to him. I remember there was a certain time when I was younger that I said, "Oh, I wanna be just like him." I wanted to, after high school, I was gonna go to the military and then I wanted to be a police officer. I was just like, "Oh, I wanna be just like him."
BILL MOYERS: A few years ago, Ramos became Sarah's official guardian. Their mother was seriously ill and he wanted to take greater responsibility for his sister, who was then a minor.
MIGUEL RAMOS: She's a good sister. She was actually, she used to bully me. I'm eight years older than her, and she was still able to bully me and pick on me. She had that down pat. She was the intimidator. She had kids that were bigger than her scared of her. And there's no one like her.
SARAH RAMOS: I was the youngest, so I got to have a lot of alone time and I grew up with my brother and I didn't see, you know, my father a lot. I look back on it now. And it's just like, I see my brother as always being like this — almost like a father type figure.
BILL MOYERS: Ramos' commitment to the Guard was supposed to end this summer. He'd been away once before, and was ready to leave the service. But then came the Pentagon's controversial Stop-Loss Policy. Stop-Loss allows the Army to compel soldiers to remain in the military even though their enlistment period is expiring. So instead of getting out of the service, Ramos is going to Iraq. Sarah did okay during her brother's first deployment — but the news of this one has fallen on her like a stone.
SARAH RAMOS: They're gonna say, "Oh, yeah, maybe a year, a year and a half." But I feel like I know I'm gonna feel like it's gonna be an eternity 'cause I need him. I need him in my life.
BILL MOYERS: Earlier this year, some teachers at Passaic High School saw that Sarah was breaking down, and so they got her to a school counselor. That counselor just happened to be Minnie Hiller-Cousins, working her civilian job.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: It was in the afternoon. And Sarah started to cry and said, "I'm just overwhelmed." She says, "My brother's going to Iraq." And she said to me, "I couldn't live without him." So I began, you know, listening even more. She said, "I don't want to live without him." And, you know, I realized right then she was very depressed. So what we did is we did have the intake service done and she agreed to be hospitalized. And, you know, again, she did want to share this part that that may — probably was the best decision she said she ever made because she was having, she said, thoughts of killing herself.
BILL MOYERS: Sarah was sent to the hospital. For Miguel, seeing his sister like this was hard enough, but he also had his deployment looming ahead.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: Put yourself in his spot. He couldn't predict that his sister was going to be so stressed out that she was hospitalized. He couldn't predict that his mother wasn't getting better — that, in fact, her condition was worsening. He had no control over these things. And Sarah didn't either.
ROY PARKS: It's a hard life being in the military. Once you're in, you realize it, and you get so attached to it and everything, it just becomes second nature and then you don't wanna quit. But you're never realizing how much you hurt your family and other people when things like this come up.
BILL MOYERS: Roy Parks has just three days before he leaves home for Texas, and then straight on to Iraq. With Matthew's help, he repacks his duffle bags for the fourth time.
ROY PARKS: Matt's my little man, my big man. Now he's gotta be the big man of the house.
Last time, he was clinging onto his mom, he acted out a little bit in school. He was very, he kinda shut himself down. And I don't want to see him go through that again.
[packing] Those work...
Just worry about everything. You know, he is afraid that I'm not gonna come home. And that's a big issue with him, I guarantee 'ya.
BILL MOYERS: The first time Roy was in Iraq, he did a range of jobs. One of them was manning the gun atop a hummer, guarding food convoys along the roads of Tikrit. Roy says that the bulk of his deployment was pretty routine. Nothing but long hours, day in, day out. But there were darker experiences as well. What he saw then, he still won't talk about with anyone back home.
TINA PARKS: When he came back, he slept all day, he wouldn't eat. He was having nightmares, there's been a couple of times that he tried to hit me, this is at night when he's asleep. He'll lean over and I see him trying to punch me and I grab his hand, you know, I tried to make him open up to me, and you know, talk to me, but he said to me, "Honey, I can't say the words on what I saw."
BILL MOYERS: At the local V.A. Hospital, doctors said Roy was suffering from PTSD — or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All soldiers are vulnerable to the psychological traumas of warfare, but National Guard soldiers seem to be particularly vulnerable. This Defense Department study found that almost half of all National Guard soldiers are returning from the war with symptoms of mental trauma — that's a markedly higher rate than soldiers from other branches of the service. The study didn't explain why there's this discrepancy. Only that it exists. Roy's been taking medication for a while, and he thinks — as do his commanding officers — that he's ready to go back to Iraq. He knows there's some risk involved, but he feels also the call of duty.
ROY PARKS: You definitely gotta take a step back every once in a while and you gotta look at what you're doing and why you're doing it. It's hard. But you gotta realize there's other people out there that are weaker that need the assistance. And that's what, you know, I signed up for, you know, to help out people when they needed help, whether there's somebody bullying' 'em around or whether they're flooded out or were in a fire or they have nothing. That's what I basically wanted to do, was help.
BILL MOYERS: Roy's wife Tina, however, is not ready.
TINA PARKS: Makes me mad. I'm angry. I mean at the same time, I know that in Iraq, a lot of people are suffering badly for no reason, and I, you know, consider ourselves lucky, the country we live in, and the freedom we have in this country and those poor people don't have it. And they go there to help them, but it still doesn't make it easy for me.
BEVERLEY CURL: These are the passports, the titles to the car.
BILL MOYERS: Like Tina Parks, Ronald Curl is having a hard time sending his spouse off to Iraq. But Beverley Curl knew what she wanted to do. She'd already put in over a decade of service, when she signed up again. For her, it was mostly about economics — she first enlisted to help pay for college, and she stayed on to build up her retirement.
BEVERLEY CURL: About two years ago, I had 15 years in, and he was like, it was time for me to re-enlist, and he was like, "Oh, don't re-enlist, don't re-enlist." I'm like, "Oh, the war's gonna be over. I have 15 years, no need to waste all that time." And I re-enlisted. And then, we actually weren't supposed to deploy, I believe, till 2010, and I would've been out by then, but they moved it up. So, this is where we are.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: We're activated. In the past you come and say "when are we going? What are we doing? When are we going? What are we doing?"
BILL MOYERS: Beverley brought her teenage son Michael to the last family meeting at the armory. She got some ideas on how to ease their time apart.
BEVERLEY CURL: My husband is not excited. My son is, "eh." So we got journals. And I'm gonna write something in a journal, and send it back to them. And they each have separate journals. And they're gonna write and send it back, and we're gonna do that back in forth. And then, I put little notes at different places around the house, so he can find during the course of the year that I'm gone. But just little notes saying, you know, miss you, love you, thinking of you, you know. So, when he least expect it, he'll be like, "Oh, what's this?" And he'll be like, you know, just when you think I'm out of your mind, there is a note right there to remind you that I'm still around. That's it.
MIGUEL RAMOS: Tomorrow, I'm gonna try to spend some time with the family. But, you know, it's right there. It's knockin' on the door.
BILL MOYERS: With time growing short, Mike Ramos faces a new crisis with his sister Sarah. On the eve of her high school graduation, she fell into depression again, and returned to the hospital. It wasn't clear she was going to make it out and get her diploma. In the meantime, Mike had made a difficult decision: because of Sarah's state, he put in a last-minute request for what is known as a "Compassionate Discharge." Requests of this sort are rarely granted. At Roy Parks home, the morning to leave has arrived.
TINA PARKS: It's rough for him. It's really rough for Matthew.
BILL MOYERS: Their son Matthew can't bring himself to come out of his room.
TINA PARKS: This whole thing is really hitting him bad.
ROY PARKS: Not easy for me either.
TINA PARKS: I know honey, but he doesn't know what to feel. You know he's so confused. Scared, angry, sad all at one time. For a 12 year old, that's not an easy.
ROY PARKS: Not easy for a 42 year old either.
TINA PARKS: I just worry about him. He just wanted to say goodbye to his father in private. 'Cause he started to cry and he's a man and he doesn't' want to show his emotions. They said goodbye in private.
That's everything right?
ROY PARKS: Yep.
BILL MOYERS: At the Teaneck Armory, several hundred Citizen Soldiers are beginning two days of waiting before boarding planes bound for Texas. Miguel Ramos hasn't heard anything about his discharge request.
MIGUEL RAMOS: I guess I try to think of it as not even real yet. Like, it hasn't even kicked in for me yet. And it's probably not going to hit me until I'm actually on base, that I can't leave. That I'm on lockdown already, and they're throwin' us on a plane. But once we start training, and it starts feelin' real, then I know that's when it'll hit me.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: I know who you are. I knew that. I knew who you were!
BILL MOYERS: Minnie Hiller-Cousins seems to be in fifty places at once. Badgering soldiers...
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: Captain Rodriguez!
BILL MOYERS: Enlisting the help of Beverley Curl's son...
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: I need you as a mentor. I've got a lot of young little kids. You might not like little kids, but you'll get to like em.
BILL MOYERS: ...even managing, with just 12 hours’ notice, to pull off an impromptu wedding for a departing soldier and his fiancé.
BRENDA ALSTON: I have a daughter that's graduating this afternoon. She's graduating from high school.
MIKE KELLY: So, you're missing that?
BRENDA ALSTON: Yes.
MIKE KELLY: Wow. Which high school?
BRENDA ALSTON: East Side High School.
MIKE KELLY: You know, one of the things that I've noticed about many of these soldiers is that they do feel a sense of commitment. They sign on the dotted line to be citizen soldiers and they don't wanna get out of it. Do they want to go to a war zone? No, they don't want to go. The best soldiers really understand that combat is the thing you don't wanna do. What I've been impressed with is that as much as they'd rather be home with their families, they know this is what they're gonna be doing, this is the journey that they're going to embark on.
BILL MOYERS: But Miguel Ramos' journey will end tonight. Just hours before deployment, word comes down from command: Miguel's request has been granted. He will be discharged.
SERGEANT: Ramos, you can fall out.
MIGUEL RAMOS: Hooah.
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS: When Mike realized she was falling, Mike had no choice. It was either his military career or his family.
BILL MOYERS: For Beverley Curl and the others, it's time to say goodbye.
BILL MOYERS: As we speak, the rest of those National Guardsmen from New Jersey have left Texas, arrived in Kuwait, and any day now will cross into Iraq. A world and life far removed from the theater of politics here at home.
That's it for this week. I'm Bill Moyers.