View Full Version : Hitting the Wall

08-12-04, 08:12 AM

From the Editor:

Hitting the Wall

By Ed Offley

Message to Brig. Gen. Frank Grass: Read the newspapers.

Grass is deputy director of the Army National Guard, and late last week pronounced everything as hunky-dory with the 350,000-member ground service component.

In an interview with the American Forces Press Service, Grass praised his part-timer soldiers as a “Band of Brothers” who have come together as a coherent fighting force in the nearly three years since 9/11. “Part of what's happening here is this team that used to see each other one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, have just come together,” Grass said. “Many of them have fought in combat side by side, and they come back and that relationship that they've built is key to them staying in.”

I have no doubts that many Guardsmen remain proud of their service and intend to stay in the military despite the backbreaking optempo they have experienced. Each one of them deserves the strongest support and praise from their fellow Americans. But that’s not the point.

The point, which Brig. Gen. Grass apparently missed, is that the National Guard, like the other military reserve components, is coming dangerously close to the breaking point. Consider the basic facts:

* Since 9/11, 158,000 of the 350,000 members of the National Guard have been mobilized and deployed. That 45 percent rate is the highest since World War II.

* Currently, 79,000 Guardsmen are deployed, with another 33,000 on alert for future missions.

* In critical MOS specialties, the deployment rate is far worse. Of the Guard’s 116 Military Police units, 100 percent have deployed once since 9/11. Twenty have shipped overseas twice.

When a reporter for The Wall Street Journal visited a North Carolina Army National Guard unit Iraq several weeks ago, he did not hear the phrase, “Band of Brothers,” from the officers and enlisted personnel of the 211th Military Police Co. Instead, he heard a number of different versions of the word, “exhausted.”

One of four MP companies in the North Carolina Army National Guard, the 211th went on active duty in January 2002 and served in Kandahar, Afghanistan, guarding Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners. The unit’s tour was extended from six to nine months. Returning in November 2002, the part-time soldiers went back to their civilian jobs and lives, only to be mobilized a second time, in March 2003, for occupation duty in Iraq. They didn’t arrive “in country” until July 2003, and served until February 2004.

During that 26-month interval, the MP unit was away from home for 22 months.

When Capt. James Payne, commander of the 211th MP Co., brought his 109 soldiers home from Iraq six months ago, they were restricted from leaving active duty for 90 days under the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” policy. As Journal reporter Greg Jaffe noted:

“Under an Army policy known as ‘stop loss,’ soldiers can’t leave the Guard during a deployment or for their first 90 days back in the U.S., even if their enlistment contracts expire. The policy is designed to ensure that units remain intact when they are most needed. But now the time for departures is arriving, as the three-month waiting period runs out for many soldiers.”

At a recent muster of the 211th MP Co. at its home armory in Clyde, N.C. witnessed by Jaffe, only 52 Guardsmen showed up – less than half its authorized endstrength. Thirty soldiers had already decided to get out once the “stop-loss” ended, and another 26 Guardsmen – who had temporarily transferred from other Guard MP companies to fill out the unit’s ranks – had transferred back to their home units. And four Guardsmen were AWOL.

Asked by a visiting Guard colonel why so many Guardsmen were leaving, Payne replied: “The overwhelming reason is that they are just dog tired. When we ask them, they say they've had enough.”

Guardsmen and reservists know full well that the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have over-stretched the Army and its reserve units. And all soldiers are aware that in wartime they may be compelled to serve longer than their intended enlistment term.

But that’s not the point, either.

The exhausted MPs of the 211th MP Co. are not an isolated example. From Maine to California, National Guard officials say their units and soldiers are close to the point where they cannot function.

“As far as New Hampshire goes, we're tapped,” Maj. Gen. John E. Blair, the state’s Guard adjutant general, told The Washington Post in a June interview. Blair noted that of his 1,700 National Guard troops, more than 1,000 are in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – or on pre-deployment alert.

Other Guard officials bemoan the fact that even when their troops do finally come home, natural disasters from forest fires to floods and hurricanes may demand their immediate call-up for state duty. The 1092nd Engineering Battalion got home to West Virginia in April after 14 months of duty in Iraq but had to be activated in early June for several weeks of flood-relief work in the southwestern parts of the state.

In a rare atmosphere of bipartisanship, Republican and Democratic governors came together at their annual conference to bitterly complain to the Pentagon how the losses of their Guard units to active duty are leaving the states increasingly vulnerably to natural disasters. Officials told The New York Times that another problem is that key civilian officials from many small towns are National Guard members, and the war has stripped many municipalities of their leaders.

National Guard officials continue to sound optimistic. Grass told the AFPS that retention in the Guard this year remains high, particularly in units that have seen combat. In an average year, officials said, the Army Guard sees about 18 percent of the force retire or separate. For fiscal 2004, officials estimate that only about 14 percent of mobilized units will leave, and 16.9 percent of the overall force will depart.

Try this number instead: In a survey conducted by the Army of 11,000 Guardsmen scheduled to return from Iraq by this fall, some 43 percent said they intend to leave when their enlistment contracts are up.

That’s not a problem. That’s a major looming crisis.

Ed Offley is Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at dweditor@yahoo.com. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com. © 2004 Ed Offley.



08-12-04, 09:56 AM
One can't equated war with a game of chess but we must ask our elected officals.
"What is the end-game" to our involvement in Iraq.
In the book "The War Generals" they bring up that question.
Because we want to end Desert Storm at 100 hours or as quickly as possible.
General Colin Powell U.S Army did not want to get into a post-war Iraq because he saw than as endless task that we would have to undertake.
If the Iraqi security forces are not up to the task, are we now in what General Colin Powell fear, an endless task in Iraq.
Does that equate to a quagmire in Iraq?
Our elected leaders should have planned for the tasks we now facing with no end in sight.
If the National Guard units are at a breaking point, what about the other military units.
Some are on their second deployment in Iraq.
For many its a more dangerous place than when they were conducting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Couldn't resist placing this cartoon!

Semper Fidelis/Semper Fi