CommunityPam's House Blend

By the thousands, soldiers 50 and older are being deployed, according to the N.J. Ledger. I figured as much, but the numbers are startling, nonetheless. This is what it takes to stretch the manpower under Bush. Insane.

Charles Thomas tended to wounded soldiers on the sweltering killing fields of Vietnam, helped hurricane victims in Honduras and oversaw finances for soldiers in Bosnia.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the 58-year-old Army National Guard command sergeant major will leave his wife, Jeanette, their 11-year-old Maltese, Pebbles, walk through the door of his Old Bridge home one final time and head to Iraq.

“I don’t want to leave my wife, but I have to go,” Thomas said during an interview last week at his house, which the couple is selling. “I made her a deal. I promised her this is my last tour of duty, and she gets a new house.”

Thomas is among a group of soldiers age 50 and over being called to active duty . Like many, he is a “citizen soldier,” a member of the National Guard or Reserves, where soldiers serve part-time. They tend to be older than their active-duty counterparts and are increasingly being deployed overseas to augment active-duty troops.

Of the 160,000 men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 4,119 are 50 or older. At a time in life when most people are looking forward to retirement or eyeing Florida real estate, these soldiers are leaving behind corporate jobs and grandkids. Some even voluntarily postpone military retirement to go to war.

“He’s put in so many years,” Jeanette Thomas said as her eyes locked with her husband’s from across the living room of their Middlesex County home where paintings and sculptures of angels adorn the small space and their frail Pebbles bounces lovingly between the couple. “My first thoughts were, ‘Why don’t they send someone else?'”

As of late last week, 10 of the more than 1,085 soldiers to die in Iraq were 50 or older, according to the Associated Press’ War Casualty database. That is a tiny fraction of overall fatalities and those men were more likely to die of medical causes, including heart attacks and heat stroke, than their younger counterparts.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding