Active duty ahead for thousands of reservists
Clinton meets with family of captured U.S. soldier
April 16, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Thousands of "weekend warriors" could find out as early as next week if they will be among those called to active duty because of the crisis in Kosovo, Pentagon officials said Friday.
Defense Secretary William Cohen said the Pentagon planned to request a "significant number" of U.S. military reservists be called up to bolster the NATO war against Yugoslavia.
Military officials said President Bill Clinton is likely to approve the request that as many as 33,000 reservists be activated. That approval could come as soon as Monday, according to administration sources.
They said the 60 percent to 70 percent of those called up will be from the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard and will be involved in refueling and transport flights and ground logistics. Army reservists who handle civil affairs duties, ranging from food handling to medical and mail support, will also get the call.
The president visited the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan on Friday where he greeted 50 volunteers from the 927th Air Refueling Wing who were departing that evening to support the NATO air campaign in the Balkans.
American vs. Yugoslav prisoners of war
Clinton also held a private meeting with the family of Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, one of three U.S. soldiers captured March 31 by Serbian forces along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
"Our prayers are with you and we will do our best to bring him home safely," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton told the Stone family during the 15-minute meeting.
The president also told Stone's father and step-mother that he was proud of their soldier son.
U.S. officials have been frustrated by Yugoslavia's refusal to allow the International Red Cross and other relief agencies to visit the prisoners.
The Pentagon announced Friday that a Yugoslav soldier was now in U.S. custody in Albania and stressed that he is being afforded all the rights of a prisoner of war, including medical care and correspondence with his family.
Albright makes direct appeal to Serbs
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tried Friday night for the second time to speak directly to the Serbian people in their own language in a message to be broadcast into Yugoslavia.
In the message, Albright asks them to ponder why 19 NATO nations are united against the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
"NATO has no wish to conquer your country and expand eastward," Albright said. "But our nations cannot stand by while thousands of innocent people are killed or driven from their homes."
Albright's message was scheduled for broadcast on Radio Free Europe, the Voice of America, the Internet and Worldnet.
Pentagon: Yugoslavia has chemical weapons
Also Friday, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon confirmed that officials believe Milosevic has chemical weapons at his disposal.
"The Yugoslav military did have some chemical weapons capability," he said. "Some of it has been dismantled and some of it's been moved. We believe that there is still a chemical weapons capability of unknown quantity in Yugoslavia today."
Bacon said there was no evidence or indication that Belgrade planned to use such weapons at the moment. But he said its unclear what Yugoslavia "would do in the event of an invasion."
U.S. reserves bring Kosovo crisis to new level
Over the past four years, nearly 18,000 members of the U.S. military reserves have served in Bosnia as peacekeepers or in support services.
But calling up reserves for Kosovo takes the war with Yugoslavia to another level.
"The idea that many people are going to be taken from their normal lives and asked to contribute to this mission -- it's one more thing that makes us feel more serious about what's going on in southeastern Europe," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
The active-duty tour for those called up could be as long as 270 days.
"Most Americans right now have been impacted by 'what' they're watching on television around the dinner table," said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Dan Benton.
"Now, potentially it's going to be a matter of 'who's' watching television around the dinner table -- because this could be the second largest presidential call up since the Gulf War," said Benton.
Biggest call-up since Gulf War
The call-up would be the biggest since more than 200,000 reservists were activated during the Persian Gulf War.
The U.S. military relies heavily on reservists for almost any large operation.
Many of the Air Force refueling aircraft in the Balkans already are operated by members of the Air National Guard. Nine Air Guard refueling wings from nine states already are participating in the NATO missions, as are KC-135 refueling units from five Air Force Reserve wings in five states.
The call-up of additional forces would follow a major buildup of U.S. and other NATO aircraft in the effort to halt Milosevic's campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province.
Correspondents Jamie McIntyre, Bill Dorman and Gene Randall contributed to this report.
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