Called to Duty
Michael Musheno reveals the hardships of being a reservist
professor and chair of criminal justice studies, has done hard time with teachers,
cops and outreach workers. He has shared on-the-job rides, coffee breaks and
the heartrending recollections of individuals he calls "street level workers -- the
people who work and represent the state in terms of governmental services -- and
witnessed the burdens of their duties first hand. He has made an academic career
out of analyzing not merely why and how they do what they do, but how this
work affects their lives.
In this time of war, it's not surprising that Musheno's attention would turn to U.S. Army reservists, those soldiers often referred to as "weekend warriors" or "citizen soldiers" who live in limbo between school or solid civilian jobs and the realities of being called up at a moment's notice for duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. In his latest book, "Deployed: How Reservists Bear the Burden of Iraq" (University of Michigan Press, ‘08), co-authored with Susan Ross of Lycoming College, Musheno reveals the personal histories of members of one of the first military police reserve companies deployed after 9/11. The book offers an engrossing look inside the disrupted lives of 46 anonymous reservists -- a group Musheno ultimately decrees "the new conscripts of the 21st century."
"We wanted to reach the thousands of reservists and members of their families who have given so much of their lives to service and to the country, and whose stories have not really been told in their own voices," Musheno says. He also aspires to reach an "informed citizenry" who can influence public policy that impacts reservists and ensure they are better rewarded for their service with things like health care and education.
Reservists Musheno interviewed signed up for reasons that are both patriotic and economic. Often they were lulled by decent part-time pay, an ability to build a parallel civilian career or earn a college degree, and a sense that they could help their country after 9/11. "What we don't do is call them citizen-soldiers," Musheno says. "That's the label that's been thrown on them by the media and politicians and those who are trying to exploit them." Through his interviews, Musheno offers a contrarian image to the part-time, ill-trained reservist regularly portrayed in the press after incidents like Abu Ghraib (an Iraqi prison torture scandal unrelated to these reservists). He reveals men and women who deployed full time to Iraq, worked and trained hard under exceptionally pressing circumstances, and did it without many of the institutional advantages or respect granted to regular enlistees.
Musheno's interest in the reservists' plight surfaced during a sabbatical when Ross, his next door office mate, shared letters from several students who were reservists being asked to suspend studies with 36 hours notice. Fueled by those compelling stories, Musheno and Ross gained the trust of a unit that would lead to nearly two years of compelling interviews.
The end product is a hard look at those who make great sacrifices to serve their country. Musheno and Ross's book demonstrates the fear, anxiety, triumph and frustration that those individuals are sent home alone to grapple with. Among the interconnected issues for reservists are personal problems that might have pre-dated and were exacerbated by deployment, and dilemmas that emerged directly out of the battlefield experience. As the reservists guarded an overcrowded and ill-equipped prison camp in Baghdad, Musheno and Ross found that the men and women fell into clusters who adapted, struggled or resisted deployment.
Gleaning their stories was not unlike quizzing cops or counselors, Musheno says. What he hopes to give reservists is a voice: "I think that people who dedicate their lives to government work at the street level are extraordinary."
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