CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Frustrated family members of reservists whose time in Iraq twice has been extended say they hope to meet with Pentagon officials later this month to get more information about when the soldiers will return home.

About 20 spouses and parents of members of the 94th Military Police Company hope to travel to Washington sometime during the next two weeks, according to Jennifer Lee, a Massachusetts woman whose husband is in the unit.

Lee said Wednesday that the group already has submitted their questions, which deal mostly with the unit’s return date, and is waiting for military officials to confirm a time for the meeting.

A call to a Pentagon spokesman was not immediately returned.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has been working on behalf of the families to set up the meeting. Her spokeswoman, Antonia Ferrier, said no date has been set, but that the senator continues to push for one.

On April 17, about 60 family members met with a two-star general in New Hampshire, who told them the reservists still were needed in Iraq to bolster other troops battling an insurgency. Many attendees were unhappy with that explanation.

The Londonderry-based unit, which has been serving in Iraq since April 2003, was supposed to return home last October, but the unit’s tour was extended another six months.

Then last month, just hours before the reservists were to board a homeward-bound plane, military command extended the deployment again, this time by 120 days.

Friends and family of the reservists have expressed frustration and anger over the extensions, saying the soldiers have served their time, have sacrificed enough of their home lives and deserve a break.

“You have divorces that are starting to happen. You have weddings that have been canceled because of this extension,” said Bob Wennerstrand, of Norwood, Mass. His son, Derek, is a member of the unit.

“It is just too much of a burden to put on citizen soldiers,” said Wennerstrand, who hopes to attend the meeting.

According to military officials, 16,000 Army reservists are serving in Iraq. By next month roughly 40 percent of the 135,000 military personnel in the country will be reservists from various branches of the military.

The members of the 94th aren’t the only ones with lengthy extensions of their duty. Reserve units around the country have faced similar prolonged tours of duty.

The angst of the families of the 94th has prompted the Congressional delegations from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts to send a letter to Pentagon officials asking that the unit be given a firm return date.

As of Wednesday, members of the New Hampshire delegation said the military had yet to respond.

Lee, who also is a former member of the unit, said the families want reassurances that the soldiers will indeed be coming home and won’t face additional extensions.

“The latest we got is that their new orders are cut until October 23,” she said. “That pretty much brings them to their full deployment. But who says they’re not going to change that when it’s October and they realize they still need troops?”

By law reservists are limited to no more than two consecutive years of active duty. For the members of the 94th, that means they must be home and demobilized by Dec. 5.

For Lee the time away from her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lee, has been especially trying. Not long after he left she gave birth to their daughter. Michael Lee has seen his daughter just twice.

“This is when it’s hardest,” said Jennifer Lee. “He’s missing all this, seeing her little personality and how much she resembles him.”

Wennerstrand wants the meeting to result in the unit being sent home, but isn’t hopeful. Barring that, he wants a firm date for their return. “I guess any time before December is a blessing,” he said.

No member of the 94th has died in Iraq, though four have been injured, reducing the number of reservists to 156. The combat military police company provides escorts to convoys, but it also provides security to soldiers conducting offensive maneuvers, including house-to-house combat and door-to-door searches, family members have said.

The 94th has exchanged gun fire with insurgents in Fallujah and elsewhere in the so-called Sunni Triangle.

Amber Fixler, who hopes to attend the meeting to learn more about her husband’s return, said even getting a commitment from the military may not put her mind at ease.

“Even if they gave us a return date, I wouldn’t believe it because of what happened last time,” she said.

The Candia woman said the multiple extensions have soured her husband on doing another stint in the reserves.

“I’m against it and I know he is, too. He’s not planning on reenlisting at this point,” she said. “He’s very much looking forward to doing something different and not having the Army overpowering his plans for the future.”

AP-ES-05-12-04 1747EDT



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