Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dentist, 84, Gets An Offer To Reenlist

Philadelphia Inquirer
February 17, 2005

The last time Floyd Baker served in the U.S. Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower was still a general.

So the 84-year-old, semi-retired Mount Airy dentist was a little surprised last August when he got a letter from a local Army recruiting station inviting him to reenlist.

"I was honorably discharged in 1948," said Baker, who was drafted in 1946 and left the Army with captain's bars on his shoulders. "I thought the letter belonged to somebody else, knowing when I got in the Army and when I got out. I thought it was a mistake."

He started believing that maybe it wasn't a mistake when another letter arrived two months later, offering him a $30,000 signing bonus, a $58,646 loan-repayment option, and a "generous retirement plan" to re-up.

Help the soldiers "on the front line fighting the war on terrorism," it said. "Among the difficulties facing them are receiving adequate dental care prior to being sent to areas of danger and conflict. Our soldiers are sacrificing so much for us and we would greatly appreciate the services of fine professionals like you."

Baker really began taking the Army's offer seriously last week after talking to a senior-citizen friend at a local Veterans Administration facility who had received a similar letter.

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Army officials, after a few gasps and guffaws, called the letters an honest mistake.

"We need dentists, but we don't need them quite that old," said Maj. Tanya Beecher, a Fort Knox, Ky., Army operations officer who helps process waiver requests for older enlistees. "We're pushing it when we request [a waiver] for someone 67."

A spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox said that Baker's letter probably had resulted from a failure to check ages along with the names gleaned from recruiting efforts or the mass-mailing lists the Army buys from marketing firms.

"Normally, we try to suppress these people - people who are too young or too old or currently in the military," Beecher said. "It's not foolproof, but we try to suppress them."

Baker's letters may have been a simple bureaucratic mistake, but they also are symptomatic of how the U.S. military is struggling to fill its ranks as it is stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To help keep its numbers up, the Army recently expanded a little-used program to recall officers and enlisted personnel to serve voluntarily for up to a year.

More than 300 Army retirees from their mid-40s to their late 60s are on active duty through the program, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army personnel spokesman.

"There were a couple of guys brought back who are really old, in their 60s," Hilferty said. "One went to Iraq. He's a medical professional."

The Army is still looking for a few good dentists. Currently, 938 dentists are on active duty, short of the 1,015 the service is authorized to carry, according to Defense Department figures. Fort Knox's Beecher said the Army was trying to recruit 30 for active duty and 48 more for the Army Reserve.

Whether the letters were a mistake or not, Baker said reenlisting didn't fit into his plans for his golden years, even though "my wife and children say I should go back in, with that much signing money" being offered.

"I told him: 'We can do this,' " Baker's wife, Gerty, 70, said jokingly. "I thought the letter was a hoot. I'm going to frame it."

Dentist, 84, Gets An Offer To Reenlist

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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