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Mom Soldier Reporting for Duty with Kids

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AOL: When Lisa Pagan reports for duty Sunday, four long years after she was honorably discharged from the Army, she'll arrive with more than her old uniform. She's bringing her kids, too.

"I have to bring them with me," she said. "I don't have a choice."

Pagan is among thousands of former service members who have left active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, only to later receive orders to return to service. They're not in training, they're not getting a Defense Department salary, but as long as they have time left on their original enlistment contracts, they're on "individual ready reserve" status -- eligible to be recalled at any time.

Soldiers can appeal, and some have won permission to remain in civilian life. Pagan filed several appeals, arguing that because her husband travels for business, no one else can take care of her kids. All were rejected, leaving Pagan with what she says is a choice between deploying to Iraq and abandoning her family, or refusing her orders and potentially facing charges.

Then she hit on the idea of showing up Sunday at Fort Benning, Ga., with her children in tow.

"I guess they'll have to contact the highest person at the base, and they'll have to decide from there what to do," Pagan said. "I either report and bring the children with me or don't report and face dishonorable discharge and possibly being arrested. I guess I'll just have to make my case while I'm there."

Master Sgt. Keith O'Donnell, an Army spokesman in St. Louis, said the commander at Fort Benning will decide how to handle the situation.

"The Army tries to look at the whole picture and they definitely don't want to do anything that jeopardizes the family or jeopardizes the children," O'Donnell said. "At the same time, these are individuals who made obligations and commitments to the country."

Of the 25,000 individual ready reserve troops recalled since September 2001, more than 7,500 have been granted deferments or exemptions, O'Donnell said. About 1,000 have failed to report. O'Donnell most of those cases are still under investigation, while 360 soldiers have been separated from the Army either through "other than honorable" discharges or general discharges.

He said Pagan isn't likely to face charges, since none of the individual ready reserve soldiers who have failed to report faced a court-martial.

Pagan, who grew up near Camden, N.J., was working in a department store when she made her commitment in September 2002. She learned how to drive a truck, and met Travis while stationed in Hawaii. She had her first child while in uniform, and they left the service in 2005 when their enlistments were up.

She always knew there was a chance she could be recalled, so she buried the thought in the back of her mind.

"When I enlisted, they said almost nobody gets called back when you're in the IRR," she said.

The young family settled outside of Charlotte in the college town of Davidson, where Travis landed a job as a salesman. It required lots of travel, but that was OK -- Pagan enjoyed her life as a stay-at-home mom to their son Eric and second child, a daughter named Elizabeth.

She opened a child-care center in her home, and started taking classes at nearby Fayetteville State.

The orders to return to active duty arrived in December 2007. She told the Army there was no one to take care of her children: Her husband spent most of his time on the road, and they believe quitting his job is a sure path to bankruptcy and foreclosure. Her parents live in New Jersey and her husband's parents live in Texas. Neither are able to help out. The Army wasn't persuaded.

Pagan hired attorney Mark Waple, who filed another appeal, which included a letter from Travis Pagan's employer that said bluntly: "In order for Travis to remain an employee, he will be required to travel." In December 2008, her appeal was again rejected.

"It's the obligation of commanders to make certain that service members have a valid family care plan and that clearly has not happened in Lisa's case," Waple said.

Tom Tarantino, a policy associate with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit group that helps veterans, said the Army has taken a hard line on many of these cases.

"Usually the only way that someone can get out of the deployment or get out of the military due to a family hardship is if they get into a situation where the kids will be put into foster care," Tarantino said.

"That's how serious it has to be, and I'm sure what the military is telling her -- and I'm not saying that this is exactly the right answer -- but the fact that it is inconvenient for her husband's job is not the military's problem. It's very harsh."

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28 comments so far | Post a comment now
Paige March 1, 2009, 11:01 AM

As a military spouse, I don’t feel much sympathy for this woman. The military informs you of your obligations when you sign up ( and yes that includes the possibility of being re activated). No matter what my husband and his fellow military members deploy if needed. This woman is like so many other females in the military she thinks that having kids gets her off the hook. Welp, sorry we are still at war and you committed so see ya! Let your husband stay home and care for the kids like other non military spouses do!

richard bowman March 1, 2009, 11:09 AM

How awful to be so alone in the world you don’t even have grand parents to help or brothers and sisters.Are we becoming a society where nobody helps anymore? What if this woman was killed in a car wreck god forbid. Her children would become orphans.

Amy March 1, 2009, 11:09 AM

Paige - you’re bitter. Life happens and has happened to this mother. What is she supposed to do? Get over yourself.

Jen March 1, 2009, 11:12 AM

I agree with Paige. I feel for this woman but you know what you’re getting in to when you enlist.

Sheri March 1, 2009, 11:14 AM

Ouch Paige.

The article is pretty clear that Pagan has no one else to care for her kids while her husband works. Should he quit his job? In this economy, that would be a dangerous and irresponsible act.

I certainly agree that she has a contractual obligation to the military; however, she also has an obligation to make sure her children are cared for.

What exactly should she do?

G March 1, 2009, 11:19 AM

Paige, please tell me how is the husband going to stay at home and take care of the kids if they don’t have a home??? If the husband quits his job, they surely can’t make it on her military pay. I don’t think she is having kids to get off the hook. She simply went on with her life once her time was up in the service. Unless you’re suggesting that people should put their life on hold until the reactivation period is over???

KellyIf you jin March 1, 2009, 12:18 PM

Wow - I think everyone is forgetting the bottom line here. Being in the military is not just a “job” - it is a responsibility. If you join just to get help with schooling or training & then get angry when you are actually called up for duty you are stupid! The military 1st job is to protect our nation and they care for all else that comes after & in peacetime.
If it was the husband who was told to return to duty and she was traveling for her job - do you think for 1 second there would even be a conversation about this??? Really - we all would be saying she was a witch because she didn’t want to quit her job to take care of her children. To the hubby - man up & take care of your children. Adapt & be flexible = military wives do it all the time. And for her - you made the commitment to our country and it is an honorable one.

Susie March 1, 2009, 12:57 PM

I agree with Paige. She will be getting paid active duty wages with extra for combat pay; it’s not like they won’t have an income! Additionally, she does have parents, and so does he. If it is such a problem for her husband to take care of the children, why not have them stay with grandparents. OR they can hire a nanny with the extra money they will receive from her working.

I do understand how hard it must be for her to leave her children and be deployed but unfortunately she wad not far sighted enough when she joined.

Chrissy March 1, 2009, 1:26 PM

First off, Mrs Pagan has done done something that most Americans don’t do, inclusing myself that is actaullyt serve in the military. And doing so after 9/11. She should get props for that.
She left and went on with her life. And the fact that people like Paige are condemning her is ridiculous.
yes the made a decision to move to a place away from their families. But since we don’t know a thing about the grandparents’ ability to help out, we shouldn’t automatically assume that they can.
And combat pay ain’t what you think it is. My Ex has been back from Iraq and the combat pay was laughable considering that bewtween regular Army and Army Reserves he had put in 16 years and was deplored to two wars. If you want to make big bucks in this war - join the contractors like Haliburton and Blackwater. Not the military.

Paige March 1, 2009, 2:23 PM

To Amy and G,
Im not all bitter. Im a military wife on the other side everytime one of these women can’t go my husband extends for another year in the desert. She knew her requirements when she signed up! As for housing The military provides family housing and pays utilities! The family would probably be better with her getting steady pay and benefits!

Kay March 1, 2009, 2:40 PM

Plenty of military moms have children and deploy. Why should she be different?
The military will pay her a salary,give the kids and husband housing and help pay childcare. I agree with Paige. Plenty of military wifes put their careers on hold to support their husbands jobs- why can’t this dad do that? If she were a man, noone would have sympathy. Women want to serve Equally in the military, right?

Jodi March 1, 2009, 5:06 PM

Sounds like the worst kind of catch 22 for this family. Her husband should not have to give up his job and they be almost certain to lose their home. But she does have an obligation. I think she made a very wise decision to report with her kids in tow. Then they aren’t just a story on paper and the military may show a little more compassion. If my hubby had to reenlist for another year to keep kids in the safe and loving arms of a parent in this situation, I would tell him to do it. That’s how this woman can get help. I am willing, able and capable to take care of my daughter in this kind of situation. Instead of being selfish and forcing this particular family to choose between a job for one parent and the kids being placed who knows where, I’d be brave enough to tell hubby- one more year. This is the kind of empathy and compassion we should be showing people in these hard times. This is what President Obama meant when he said we would have to make tough decisions and help each other out. Instead of only seeing one side of the coin perhaps we should look at both sides and make the tough choice- to help the children of this family that would clearly suffer the most.

Ju March 1, 2009, 6:38 PM

I served in the Army for 6 years and got out on a Med Board(meaning I was too injured to serve)and then I became a military spouse for a few months because my husband was still in, so I know how it feels being on both sides. As harsh as it sounds, Paige is right, it’s not as if the military won’t pay her, give her housing(she WILL get extra for having 3 dependents as well as combat pay), provide childcare … Before you raise your hand and make the commitment, they tell you about IRR. She joined AFTER 9/11, and watched the war continue until she and her hubby finished their term! Personally, I think it was a bit brainless to believe whoever said no one really gets called up for IRR. THAT was naive. I feel for her, I really do, but unless you are considered unfit for duty, you should ALWAYS keep in your mind, not the BACK of it, that you could be called up to serve. We ARE still at war, whether we like to pretend or not. She, her husband and whoever was supposed to help with the family care plan failed in making some sort of safenet for the children until they were both clear of the IRR. One thing that got my curiosity was why COULDN’T the grandparents help? Are they disabled? Do they live in a bad neighborhood? That just seemed sad that they had no other family to help them out. I hope this works out well for all of them, especially the kids.

Pat March 1, 2009, 7:03 PM

So she got an education, lived it up in Hawaii and the military paid for the first child to be born but now she can’t live up to her commitment? Typical, get what you can and then get out huh?

N March 1, 2009, 11:46 PM

she already paid her commitment when she served. They discharged her, they have no right to call people back, especially for this F*cked Up War!!!!!!!!!!!!

kelly March 2, 2009, 12:47 AM

Regards to N’s response. No one likes war, but in one’s lifetime it becomes a necessity. Every war that has been fought has had the same anti-war sentiments. Many years have passed since 9/11 & many of us have forgotten those images of that day. We have forgotten the hate that spilled out on our tv screens. Remember the motto? “Lest we forget?” Sad as it is - we have. As harsh as this may sound - better there than here to fight to keep our country safe.
She knew enlisting that during times of war, regardless of discharge you may be called up again. It’s not a secret. Once again I say this - if this was her husband being redeployed & she “couldn’t” take care of her children due to her job - we’d all be bitchin’ about something else. Her!
Bottom line is - both she & her husband knew this day may come. Why were plans not made for this day? This is crazy & for her husband to let her take them to a military base (the children) is irresponsible. Why let your children be subjected to this kind of media-circus.
And let’s not jump all over Paige. She too has done her time as a military wife. She too has given much for her country! Easy for those of us to complain when we have our husband home everyday!

Persia March 2, 2009, 4:08 AM

Way to go, Mom..take a stand. Talk to every reporter that will listen. Its a senseless war in which women in combat have been used and abused by their own. You women should be ashamed of yourself. She and her husband have both done their time. Just say NO, Mom!

John March 2, 2009, 6:57 PM

What you non- military people are NOT seeing here is that she DID NOT fulfill her committment. The committement included this IRR time with the possibility of being reactivated. The service was nice enough to put her on IRR to finish her time. Unfortunately, because we are at war, she was recalled. She gave a committment. She, like MANY others, should have to fulfill it.

Persia March 2, 2009, 7:11 PM

Sorry, John. Shes NOT like the MANY others…they are MEN. Im pretty sure that in addition to the rules of IRR, she was also told she wouldnt be raped by her fellow troops. She fights during the day and then has to fight during the night. I say get out any way you can, Mom.

John March 2, 2009, 7:41 PM

Sad to know that that is your opinion of our military. What I stated was purely FACT, ma’am. Another fact is that WE ARE A VOLUNTEER MILITARY.

Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I totally agree this is a hardship and work with families like this all the time. It’s not that it isn’t an issue - it’s that it’s something she is going to have to figure out. Fact is - she made a committment and she has to fulfill it.

I honestly feel sorry for her children as they are “caught in the middle” and now being a huge part of this press and uproar are going to be scarred for life.

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