In 2002, William Etter, a Brigadier General with the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard, became one of the first reservists called up as part of the so-called War on Terror. For Etter, it meant hanging up his wings–at least in terms of his schedule with his full-time employer, Delta Air Lines Inc., where he has worked as a pilot for the past 19 years.

For Delta, it would mark the beginning of a period in which its pilot roster would be seriously challenged by the ever increasing demands of the Pentagon for fliers in Iraq and elsewhere. Over the past four years, Delta has been losing between 150 and 200 full-time pilots annually to some period of military service. "We've had to add 90 to 100 extra pilots to our roster, at a cost last year of $13 million, to be able to handle all the active-duty call-ups of our pilots," says Steve Dickson, director of flight operations at Delta. Despite the financial stress that the company and its industry have endured since 9/11 and the run-up in the cost of fuel oil, Delta was more than willing to accept the challenge–explaining why the Pentagon recently awarded Delta a Five-Star Employer Award for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

There are currently more than 100,000 Guard and Reserve troops on active duty, a number that has been as high as 160,000. Almost all of them have full-time employers who, by law, must accommodate the absence. The pressure on employers has been particularly intense in recent years, given that active-duty U.S. troop strength is much lower than in prior periods of international conflict. This has forced the Pentagon to rely to an unprecedented extent upon Reserve and National Guard units to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and in homeland security efforts.

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