WITH U.S. TROOPS, SAUDI ARABIA -- Star reporter Charles Hoskinson was working the hottest story in the Greenville, N.C., daily newspaper -- until he became part of the news.

The military plucked reservist Hoskinson out of his assigned Army combat infantry unit and, because of his journalism background, dispatched him to Saudi Arabia as a public affairs officer. Now he is shepherding journalists across the desert and is on the opposite end of the notepad in interviews with reporters from his newspaper.

"It was hell to have to give up the Desert Shield story," said Hoskinson, 29, who was reared in Fairfax County and graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Arab studies. "I did some of my best work on it. Now they've hired somebody new to replace me."

Across the Arabian Peninsula, tens of thousands of workday civilians are struggling to cope with the unexpected disruptions of professional and personal lives in the United States while trying to adapt to the rigors of active-duty military roles. For some, like Rusty Waldrep of Baton Rouge, La., the sudden orders to Saudi Arabia provided a welcome temporary escape from a dull job as an insurance adjuster. For others, like Monica Bond, 22, it is a resented intrusion that robbed her of an eagerly anticipated senior year at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., and disrupted her career plans.

The first presidential mobilization of the military reserves in two decades will be a critical test of the Defense Department's controversial "total force" plan, which allots a large slice of military duties to a part-time, civilian contingency force. Some top military leaders have long questioned the ability of civilian troops, who train weekends and two weeks a year, to perform adequately in combat situations alongside active-duty forces.

About one of every four U.S. military men and women in the Middle East now is a member of a National Guard or reserve unit, or about 70,000 of the 280,000 U.S. personnel in the region. Another 57,000 reservists have been activated for possible deployment to Saudi Arabia or to fill jobs vacated by active-duty troops in the United States.

Many reservists dispatched to the Middle East say they have encountered friction with active-duty counterparts since the day they arrived.

"You're treated like a second-class citizen up and down," said Lt. Rodney Adams, 25, who helps run an athletic clothing shop in Raleigh and now heads a six-member transportation detachment trucking food and supplies across the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. "They're scared you're going to make a mistake." As further insult, Adams said, "After 90 days, I haven't even been paid yet."

"There have been conflicts," said the commander of an Army Reserve logistics unit. "They {active-duty troops} tell us, 'You're going to have to prove to us you can do the job.' "

But some members of the guard and reserves concede that they have been partly responsible for fostering those attitudes. One reserve commander noted, "It's been a challenge just getting up to speed on the latest Army terminology and learning the newest equipment, which the reserves don't have in their inventory."

For the first few months, however, the greatest difficulty for these part-time warriors has been the mental and physical adjustment of leaving comfortable homes with flush toilets for the crowded, sandblasted tents of the Saudi desert.

Lt. Kathy McDill, 23, an exercise therapist at home in Tennessee, joined the National Guard because she wanted to learn to fly and become a pilot. Now, she is spending many mornings tugging filth-encrusted metal vats of reeking human waste from beneath wooden latrines across the sand to the edge of the camp, where it is burned.

It is the most-detested duty in camp. McDill, peering at her blackened hands, noted, "We all have to take our turn."

The powder-fine sand permeates every aspect of life, dusting the log sheets in the adminstration tent, seeping through closed tent flaps, coating freshly showered bodies as they dash from the wooden shower stalls across camp to their tents.

"It's a tough adjustment from driving to a desk in an air-conditioned office to this," said Shirley deGroot, 30, who works for a federal loan agency in Baldwin City, Kan., and was sent to Saudi Arabia because of her military specialty in chemical warfare training.

At home, Pamela Sabonis, 45, is a mail carrier near Fayetteville, N.C. Here, she heads an Army maintenance division of the 171st Combat Support Group, a North Carolina reserve unit, and serves as surrogate mother to a tent full of younger women. She throws back the canvas flap of her new desert accommodations: "I'd like Better Homes and Gardens to come take a picture of our tent. They could call it, 'Desert Living for Women.' "

Inside, military-issue sleeping bags cover brightly flowered cot mattresses purchased from Saudi entrepreneurs, cardboard boxes have been transformed into night stands and small Middle Eastern rugs cover the sandy wooden tent floor. Socks, T-shirts and underwear hang from makeshift clotheslines that crisscross the tent. Poignant reminders of home are taped to every surface: pictures of children, husbands, boyfriends, dogs and cats, crudely crayoned Christmas cards and yellowed clippings from hometown newspapers.

The experience, in many cases, has been tougher on the younger members of the units, college students who joined the reserves for the education money and now have been torn from the freedoms of academic life to the rigid discipline of a military cast into an isolated environment. It has prompted many to consider resigning from their units when their commitments have expired.

Sgt. Tammy Evans-Toussaint, 26, said there is little doubt the experience will drive her to resign from the reserves in four years when her six-year commitment is finished. "It's too much of an interruption on your civilian life."

"The reserves have treated me well; the money put me through college," said Adams, who has been in the reserves 3 1/2 years. "But, I'm debating whether to stay in. This is definitely the payback."

Others worry about the impact of the activation on jobs and future employment. "It's going to be hard for employers to look at me as a potential asset if they're afraid I might get called up again," Hoskinson said. "The law protects reservists from job discrimination, but I can easily see how a potential employer faced with the choice of two people of equal ability would chose the one that he knows won't disappear for six months."