MILTON, Fla. – Small, frail but rambunctious, 16-month-old Will Fitzpatrick suffers from multiple birth defects. He’ll need a second open-heart operation within six months and a transplant if he makes it into his teens.
His parents, Terry and Susan Fitzpatrick, have juggled their work schedules to provide the constant care Will needs – daily medication, supplemental feedings through a gastric tube and regular sessions with his doctors and physical therapists.
Now the Fitzpatricks are facing a new crisis: The Army has ordered Terry, who was honorably discharged in 2000, back into uniform for duty in Iraq.
Terry, a 26-year-old carpenter who was an Army mechanic, is appealing for a hardship exemption but so far all he has received is an extension of his reporting date from Nov. 18 until Jan. 30.
He is among more than 4,400 members of the Individual Ready Reserve who have been ordered back into the Army although they have completed their enlistments and are not required to attend Reserve drills and meetings.
The Army says it needs them to fill gaps in its ranks for the war in Iraq and other overseas commitments.
The Fitzpatricks take turns caring for Will, with Terry working days and Susan mostly nights. Susan works up to 60 hours a week, meaning Terry is Will’s primary caregiver.
Susan, 25, also is an Army veteran – the couple met at Fort Stewart, Ga. – and fears she, too, may be recalled. Although Susan is the family’s main breadwinner, she said she would have to quit her job as a restaurant manager to care for Will if her husband is sent to Iraq.
The Army Human Resources Command’s Reserve center in St. Louis had not acted on Terry’s appeal of his October recall order as of Friday. If denied, he plans to make a final appeal to Maj. Gen. Dorian T. Anderson, who heads the command.
The Army had approved 1,258 delays and exemptions out of 1,919 requests and denied only 85 as of Dec. 28, said Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon. She said 576 where awaiting a decision.
Most exemptions and delays were granted for medical reasons followed by family care and financial hardships, Hart said.
“The military does ensure that the family members are taken care of, but at the same time we are a nation at war,” she said.
Susan was discharged after two years in 1999, and Terry was discharged after three, but all soldiers have a combined eight-year commitment including the Ready Reserve.
Their son was born with a constellation of birth defects. His heart had only three chambers instead of four. Holes in the heart that normally close as a fetus develops remained open and there was a gap between his esophagus and stomach.
Terry is resigned to returning to the Army if all appeals fail.
Susan, who will remain on ready reserve status until 2007, has a different perspective. “I was 171/2 when I signed up,” she said. “Things changed, I’ve changed. I did my time, got out and started a family not thinking that something like this would happen.”