Called to active duty

Langley attorney Lynn Hicks (standing) looks over client files with her assistant Brigette Juras as she closes down her law practice to go on active duty with the United States Marine Corps. - Matt Johnson
Langley attorney Lynn Hicks (standing) looks over client files with her assistant Brigette Juras as she closes down her law practice to go on active duty with the United States Marine Corps.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

For 20 years, Lynn Hicks has known she might be called to war at any time.

A Langley attorney and a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, Hicks almost saw her first action in Operation Desert Storm while she was attending law school in 1991. As it turned out, the Marines did not need her then.

But they do now.

Last week, Hicks temporarily closed her Langley law office and packed to hop a plane headed for a Marine Corps operations base in Hawaii. She has handed off her clients to other attorneys and said goodbye to her teenage son and daughter and her husband.

Hicks is now one of about 27,000 reserve soldiers who are being called into active duty as the United States begins skirmishing with reported terrorist cells and the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Hicks said she can handle the goodbyes and suspending her career. She said she just wishes she knew how long she will be gone.

“I’ve gone through stages where I can’t talk without tears in my eyes,” she said.

Hicks is one of a number of Whidbey Island reservists who are being called into full-time military service following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast. All of the U.S. military services are calling up reservists, pulling people out of various careers, including those who work as teachers, police officers, and in Hicks’ case, attorneys.

When she arrives in Hawaii, Hicks will be involved in wartime operations for the first time in her career. Having served 17 years as a reservist and three years as an active-duty Marine, Hicks could have retired this spring. She knew staying on could earn her another jump in rank and a better pension, but there was also the risk of being called up in case of war.

If it wasn’t for her family and her law practice, Hicks said she would have no mixed emotions about shipping out.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I’ve never had the opportunity to serve my country,” she said.

As a member of Marine Forces Pacific Crisis Action Center staff, which feeds information about troop strength and other data to the Pacific’s commanding Marine general, Hicks will get that opportunity.

“I feel good about that,” she said.

Also leaving South Whidbey with mixed emotions will be Army reservist and South Whidbey High School English teacher Steve Durbin. Unlike Hicks, Durbin does not know exactly when he will be called into regular Army service. He is on 48-hour alert status and has been assured by his commanding officers that he will be somewhere other than Whidbey Island by Thanksgiving.

A master sergeant trained as a medic, Durbin has been in the Army for a total of 22 years. He spent a year in the Saudi Arabian desert in 1991 during the Army’s last callup, Desert Storm. That was a tour he was happy to take. This time around, he has no idea where he's going and what he will be doing.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this one,” he said.

Like Hicks, Durbin also could have retired before Sept. 11. But he remained in the reserves for the college tuition benefits his children receive from the Army.

Other South Whidbey reservists are still waiting to hear if they will be needed. Langley resident Matt Simms, a former Navy intelligence officer who now does his monthly reserve duty out of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor, has seen half his reserve unit called into active duty. At the moment, he is not on any kind of alert.

If he is called back into service, he said he will be excited to do the work the Navy trained him to do. At the same time, he said he will have a hard time leaving his wife, Erin, and infant son Will behind.

“On the professional side, I’d like to be called up,” he said. “But there’s always mixed emotions with things like this.”

Ray Tash, a retired Marine reservist who now works as a lieutenant with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, said his agency is losing several deputies to reserve deployments. A reserve callup himself during Desert Storm, the former gunnery sergeant said his six months of U.S. base time in 1991 was good for him financially — wartime pay was better than what he was making with the Sheriff’s Office at the time.

But unlike during his single days as a full-time Marine, the excitement of the callup was dampened by concern for his family.

“It was very traumatic for my wife,” he said.

Not all the reservists will benefit financially from this callup. While reservists like Durbin have job security and may even make more money while they serve than usual, self-employed reservists such as Lynne Hicks may pay a price in dollars and cents. Hicks spent the 10-days notice she received from the Marine Corps to settle cases, hand others off to other attorneys, and to notify clients with no pending court dates that they will have to contact another lawyer while she is off the island. Having practiced law in Langley since 1993, She said she hopes she can rebuild her practice when she returns.

She is receiving help. Members of her church, her colleagues in the law profession, and her accountant have all offered to assist her in tying up the loose ends before her deployment.

“I’m amazed with the support from the community,” Hicks said.

Hicks said clients with questions after she leaves for her tour should call her assistant, Brigette Juras, at her office.

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