Back to Iraq years earlier than previously promised for some Guard/Reserve components:
The Pentagon is planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their time between deployments to meet the demands of President Bush’s buildup, Defense Department officials said Wednesday.
National Guard officials told state commanders in Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio last month that while a final decision had not been made, units from their states that had done previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan could be designated to return to Iraq next year between January and June, the officials said.***
Changing the reservists’ schedules means abandoning previous promises that they would get several years between deployments. And the acceleration means that soldiers who usually drill just once a month and for a few weeks in the summer will have to begin intensive preparations right away.
“We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.”
While the equipment issues are, in and of themselves, troubling, the other issue is that decisions like this could potentially decimate the Guard/Reserve components for years to come. I don’t have hard data in front of me, but I can speak from my own anecdotal evidence (which, as always, opens the possibilities for mistakes in judgement).
Many of the soldiers that make up the Guard/Reserve component are former active duty soldiers. When I left active duty in 1992, I had several years left on my Inactive Ready Reserve (when you sign up for active duty, despite how long your active duty tour is, you are obligated to be in the IRR for 8 years. While on IRR, you are available for callups and returns to active duty in the event of a national emergency). I also lived in a state that would pay for your education at a state institution if you were in the National Guard.
In short, I was already faced with several years of IRR obligation anyway, I really, really enjoyed my experiences in the military and did not look forward to severing all ties with the Army, so the National Guard was what we would call a no-brainer. I would drill once or twice a month, go away for several weeks of annual training, get paid a monthly stipend (it was around 100 or so bucks if I remember correctly), collect my monthly GI Bill/Army College Fund nine months of the year (around 550 a month), and have my school paid for. It was a super sweet deal for me, and it was a super sweet deal for the state.They got a soldier with several years of active duty training and experience, I got my education paid for and got to stay in the military, something I really wanted to do.
While in the Guard, over half of my fellow soldiers were in the same boat- folks that had done varying numbers of tours on active duty, and had, for one reason or another, left, but did not want to leave all the way. The other half was composed of citizen soldiers who had never been on active duty, but had joined the Guard/Reserve directly. During my years in the Guard, my unit was activated numerous times. Many times simply for snow duty, some times for flood duty (flooding is a terrible problem in southern WV, as entire coal mining towns along creeks can be wiped out in flash floods- floods that often occur after heavy snows). Many times, our unit had volunteers do prolonged service burning marijuana crops in various drug eradication programs. I was fortunate never to have to be called up for a prolonged tour of duty overseas, although opportunities did arise for me to spend 6-8 weeks overseas (once there was a mission to Egypt in which the unit took volunteers, other summers people were flown to do border patrol missions, etc.).
I say fortunate not because I didn’t want to go, but fortunate because I had too many other responsibilities. I worked as a student, I interned and later worked for a probation office, I played lacrosse, etc. At one point during my Guard duty, I was attending a one year Masters program every morning for 5 hours, driving to a store I ran and working until 11 pm every day during the week, working from 10 am until 9pm at the store two weekends a month, and drilling with my Guard unit the other two weekends. I think I went over 280 days without a day off.
A lengthy call-up to a war in a foreign country would have destroyed my life. I would have lost my job (and spare me the nonsense about people keeping their jobs- I worked for a small company, they would have had to replace me). My academic career would have been put on hold, and I would probably have had to start over again. I also would have earned significantly while on active duty than I did while working my job, and incurred debts paying for rent in a place I was not living, paying insurance/monthly bills on a car I could not drive, etc.
An astute observer might, at this point, say two things. First, are there not programs in place to help with those burdens? The answer, of course, is, “yes.” There are programs to ease the financial burdens of call-ups, to suspend cc and home and car payments until a person returns from duty. But the bills still exist, and do not go away. You just pay them later, and with a significant loss in earning power for the duration of your activation.
Second, the observer might ask: “Were you not aware of those risks when you signed up?”
And again, the answer is “yes.” And therein lies the rub, and the real long-term problem. People are and will be aware of those risks, and given the past five years of heavy activation, broken promises, and real danger in Iraq, they will determine that the risks make service in the Guard or Reserve too prohibitive. When I entered my Doctoral program, I left the National Guard precisely for the risk to my education posed by the potential obligations of active duty deployments. And I didn’t have a job, a family, or many bills to worry about, etc. Others will.
Additionally, what incentive is there for an active duty soldier, weary from 2-3 tours in Iraq on Active Duty, to join a less trained, less equipped Guard or Reserve unit that in all likelihood will be thrown back into action in Iraq as frequently as they would on active duty? While there may be some really outstanding Guard/Reserve units, none of the ones I was in were as trained and ready for battle as my active duty unit. I am not trying to denigrate the Guard or Reserve, but it is just impossible for them to perform at the same level as an Active Duty unit when they only train a weekend a month as compared to the daily training and institutional knowledge of a group that works together every day. That doesn’t make them bad soldiers, and I was and still am really proud of my Guard units, but if I had to go to war and was given a choice between my old active duty units and my Guard units, I know which one I would choose. I am betting most soldiers would say the same thing. Add to that the possibility of damaging a fledgling career, academic pursuits, family plans, etc.?
If your answer is “None,” you are beginning to see the real problems with the misuse/overuse of the Guard and Reserve over the past few years. Forget about the gear issues, as gear can easily be replaced if enough political pressure is applied. What can not be replaced is the people. The National Guard/Reserve were, in my mind, a safety net. The Guard in particular was there to fulfill a variety of state needs as well as to supplement the active military. It just doesn’t seem that way anymore, and I am afraid that the Guard and Reserve are going to face some real problems in the longterm.