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IN OCTOBER, Jane Dahmer kissed her husband goodbye at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base -- filled with pride and patriotism as Lt. Col. Robert Dahmer, a 46-year-old pilot who served in Vietnam, left for Operation Desert Shield.

Two months later, her emotions have changed.

"I feel used, betrayed, and I don't know who to trust or turn to," she says.

She is not alone.

Many families of local Air Force reservists -- and some reservists themselves -- are upset over the president's decision to extend their original orders for active duty assignment in the Mideast beyond 90 days.

And some families say they are dealing with financial hardships and uncertainties, as well as emotional turmoil.

Practical matters such as mortgage payments are troubling some spouses, as they try to find money to make up for their spouse's lost wages.

For example, one local reservist, accustomed to earning $700 a week at his regular job, is now down to $450 a week in military pay. This amount varies from one reservist to another, depending on rank and years of service. The gap of about $1,000 a month makes it much tougher to meet monthly expenses.

Others are worried about the loss of health insurance and other job benefits by reservists who left their jobs to go overseas. It's up to the individual employers to continue benefits, and many are guaranteed for only 90 days.

"After 90 days my husband's employer will not pay any medical insurance," said Linda Boyack, whose husband, Dennis, 43, is a master sergeant with the 914th. The Town of Tonawanda couple has three children, including a 15-year-old who is partially blind and requires regular medical attention.

If employer medical insurance is canceled, reservists' families are eligible for military health insurance called CHAMPUS. But not all doctors accept it, and often the family must pay up front and wait to be reimbursed by the government.

"My son is treated by a special doctor and I don't know if he's going to take CHAMPUS," Mrs. Boyack said. She estimates it will cost $300 a month extra to pay for her current medical and dental coverage, starting Jan 1. This expense is in addition to a cut in income from her husband leaving his full-time job.

"Before this is over we're going to lose thousands of dollars," Mrs. Boyack said. "We've going to have to go into the money we were saving for college education. We could go through years of savings in six months. Who knows what will happen if it lasts any longer."

The 914th Tactical Airlift Group left its home base on Oct. 6, and was due to return about Jan. 1, when it was supposed to be rotated home and replaced by other reserve units, Mrs. Dahmer said.

Those plans changed in mid-November when President Bush approved an extension of reservists' active duty another 90 days, to a tour length of 179 days. The estimated 200 local Air Force reservists are now expected to return around April 1, unless they are extended again. President Bush has the power to deploy National Guard and Reserve troops in the Persian Gulf for up to a year without declaring a national emergency.

As a result, one local reservist's wife has had to leave her apartment and move in with in-laws, because she was unable to meet rent payments, Mrs. Boyack said.

"Our lives have been on a roller coaster," said Mrs. Boyack.

Her own family has had to get an extension on car payments and part-time jobs. And her children are facing the Christmas holiday without their father.

"For Christmas, the kids already know we can't afford to get them what they want," Mrs. Boyack said. "It's tough because you've got to keep everything going by yourself. You get down, but you can't let the kids see you that way. They're worried about their father and are always asking when he's coming back."

This emotional burden for reservists and families is not unexpected.

"A lot of it is anxiety over the unknown," said Carolyn C. Shadle, director of the Institute for Work/Family Balance at the University at Buffalo, which has counseled reservist families.

"Once the extension came, everything changed. You can plan your life for 90 days, but when they change the rules you feel helpless."

The reservists entered military services with certain expectations, she said.

"The Cold War was over; no one thought reserves would be thrown into a conflict like this so far away from their families on such short notice. These aren't full-time military people; they weren't prepared for this and they feel betrayed."

Lt. Col. Alan B. Clune, commander of the Niagara Falls base, sympathizes with the families but says the extension order is a matter of duty.

"What I've been telling the families is that we understand their disappointment but Congress and the president certainly have the right to determine what is best for this operation," Clune said.

Clune said this is the first time the 914th has been activated in 22 years, but "this is what we train for."

The Pentagon has said that 188,000 National Guard and Reserve members can be put on active duty for gulf operations. Since late August, nearly 100,000 members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Reserves have been called to active duty.

"I'm not sure I know why those reservists are needed," Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan D-N.Y., said last week during a visit to Buffalo. He hinted at a political motivation for putting reservists in the Gulf. "There is a lobby in the House that really wants to use reserves more and make them an alternative to a big standing army."

Moynihan also pointed out that reservists are volunteers and such service, "is part of the contract . . . they should read the fine print."

Mrs. Dahmer, who lives in North Tonawanda, has become an unofficial spokeswoman for some local Air Force families and has started a mass mailing campaign to Congress and military leaders explaining the reservists' plight.

Similar letters have been forwarded to her from the reservists themselves, Mrs. Dahmer said. She indicated she received more than 100 letters to be mailed on to Congress and military leaders, from those serving in the Mideast.

One reservist wrote: "We were told we would be going to operation Desert Shield for 90 days . . . and planned our personal lives for this. The gulf crisis is not a declared national emergency. To date there have been no shots fired; there is no justified reason for not rotating. . ."

Letters from Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., responding to the reservists, were received this week, and they added to the controversy. D'Amato's response noted his disappointment in the letter writing, and some reservists took that as a snub. Later in the week, D'Amato apologized for the letter.

Back home, Mrs. Dahmer said her family, including five children, is dreading the Jan. 1 deadline -- the approximate date her husband was to have returned home.

"It's hard being apart, and the separation is going to be more difficult once that deadline comes around," Mrs. Dahmer said. Her husband has about 20 years of service in the Air Force.

"I miss him and I know it's his job to go there because he was called," she said. "I'm not a whimpering wife; what I'm saying is that the government should live up to its word, and rotate the reservists."

Clune, the Niagara Falls base commander, said the length of separation has been a major adjustment for everyone.

"I know the families are upset and angry and want somebody to do something. I can assure them what can be done will be done. We're all just hoping and praying this thing will be settled."

The base has a Family Support Center to help with personal and financial problems. The center is staffed daily and holds weekly meetings for those seeking help. Meetings have doubled in size, since the extension was announced, said Staff Sgt. Jeannie Morrison, co-director of the Family Support Center.

The biggest problem for spouses back home "is suddenly being a single parent, running a house by yourself," Sgt. Morrison said. "You try and make that adjustment and you set your sights for 90 days when the reservist returns, but now you've got to go another three months."

Sgt. Morrison said she was unaware of any family's leaving an apartment because of inability to pay rent. Morrison said the base will put anyone facing such a problem in touch with a legal officer. She also said the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act can be used to reduce interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

There are other types of aid for those in need, ranging from food stamps to service by United Way agencies, Sgt. Morrison said.

"There is help available, all they have to do is ask," Sgt. Morrison said. "You can't be too proud to ask."

Some of the problems have nothing to do with money.

"I've never lived alone before and it's kind of scary," said one wife, the mother of two, who asked not to be identified. "I was doing OK until they announced the extension. Now I just don't know how we're going to make it."

Said another reservist wife who has two children under age 5: "You have to understand, most of us aren't military families. This kind of life and separation is all new to us. I don't know what's going to happen if I can't pay my bills. How am I going to tell my husband the collection agency is at the door?"

She says most telephone calls begin with discussions of financial problems. "We talk about our problems for 20 minutes and then we say we love each other."

"We never thought there was a chance in hell this would happen," said one wife, the mother of two infant children, who asked not to be identified.

"Our people are stuck over there and we're stuck here at home," she said. "It's been a nightmare, and we feel if we don't say something about it now, they're going to extend them another 180 days. If that happens, I don't know how we're going to make it."

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