View Full Version : Crisis at the Guard

09-29-03, 06:26 AM
Crisis at the Guard

Post-Sept. 11 deployments strain citizen soldier ideal

By Jeanette Steele

September 26, 2003

When Paul Monroe took command of the California National Guard in 1999, his greatest concern was how to respond to a massive earthquake the "Big One" scientists have long predicted.

But he didn't expect this.

Nearly 1,600 of his citizen soldiers are now in Iraq, facing unexpected hardships: getting shot at regularly, enduring tent life in the baking desert heat, being chewed up by sand fleas and jumping spiders.

In some cases, he said, troops are doing dangerous work they aren't trained for.

And this month, they received orders to stay at war for a full year.

Monroe, a major general who leads 22,000 army and air guardsmen, said no one predicted this kind of service for state militia members, who were told to expect a weekend of training a month and two weeks of duty a year and whose mission historically had been handling domestic disasters.

"The fact that they've gone to war, none of us expected that, especially for as long as it's been," said Monroe, who visited his soldiers in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan this month.

"The conditions there are just indescribable," he said. "I've heard about them, I've read about them, but until you see it, you just cannot believe it."

Some military officials, including Monroe, fear there will be a retention problem when the 31,300 guardsmen in Iraq return to their home states from deployments of up to 16 months.

The situation has prompted calls for a large-scale military restructuring so reserve units aren't repeatedly called up and for better benefits for guardsmen.

But long deployments may be a lingering reality for the National Guard and reservists in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The Pentagon said this week that more guardsmen and reservists may be ordered to Iraq to pick up the slack if foreign countries decline to provide soldiers for a multinational peacekeeping division.

Danielle Beck Stack, wife of a San Diego guardsman, has mixed feelings about the call-ups.

Her husband, 36-year-old Sgt. Lane Stack, is a former Marine who joined the Guard a few months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Somalia, he liked the idea of earning retirement benefits and college money and of keeping a toehold in the military. They thought his call-ups would entail duty in California.

Instead, as part of the National City-based 670th Military Police Company, Stack was activated in January for training in Washington state, then left for Iraq in April.

"One side of me says, no, it's not fair, because they are reservists," said Stack, 35, who spends up to $900 a month on phone bills talking to her husband. "The active duty (soldiers) should be the ones that are expected to be there for a year.

"But on the other hand, we're so short of active duty, that's the reason we have reserves."

The California National Guard has sent four military police units, four truck companies and a military intelligence battalion to Iraq. Besides the National City unit, elements of the San Diego-based 40th Infantry Division are also there.

It's a different world than the drill fields.

Each truck and police company has come under attack, Monroe said, and sometimes they are doing jobs beyond their training.

The 2632nd Transportation Company from San Bruno had to convert some of its trucks into security vehicles, welding machine gun mounts to the beds. Military police are spread too thin to provide security for company convoys, so the truckers are doing it themselves.

When activated, each Guard unit got training in "military essential tasks" what the Army thought would be necessary skills for the region, Monroe said.

"But it just hasn't been. They've had to improvise a lot," he said. "I'm very surprised at their positive attitude under the conditions in which they have to do their job."

A military policeman from Bakersfield, Staff Sgt. David Perry, 36, died Aug. 10 when a package he was inspecting exploded. He was the first California guardsman killed in Iraq, and at least three others have suffered significant wounds. Forty-seven guardsmen and reservists have been killed since the war began.

So the daily reports of soldiers killed or injured in Iraq are agony for Danielle Stack. There is nothing to distinguish citizen soldiers from regular soldiers in the field; all wear the same camouflage uniform.

"I'm very concerned about his safety," she said. "It's really scary."

The hazards and hardships may spell a personnel problem for the National Guard, a force dating back to the Colonial era, when state militias enforced the peace.

The California Guard was formed in 1849 to squash vigilantism and looting after a ship sunk off the coast, said Donald E. Mattson, director of the California State Military Museum in Sacramento.

As in other states, the California Guard has a dual mission: to respond to local disasters, such as riots and floods, at the governor's command; and, in wartime, to contribute forces to the Army and the Air Force, just like the reserve.

The Guard responded to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and every war stretching back at least to the Civil War.

Now, two years into the war on terrorism, Guard recruitment is short by 10,000 people nationwide.

The National Guard Bureau's goal is 62,000 for the year ending Sept. 30, but only 51,700 new guardsmen have enlisted. Guard officials said higher-than-expected retention so far makes up for it.

One reason for the strong retention may be that guardsmen can't get out while their units are activated or on alert, as is the case for 118,000 guardsmen nationally.

"That may have an impact," said Reggie Saville, a National Guard Bureau spokesman. "Also, it may sound corny, but some of it may be plain old patriotism."

One California National Guard lobbying group predicts a retention and recruitment disaster that could hinder the state militia's ability to react to local emergencies.

"I suspect as soon as people return, those who can go probably will, and the new people won't step up," said John Haramalis, president of the National Guard Association of California and an active-duty lieutenant colonel in the Guard.

The biggest problem, he said, is guardsmen don't get the same benefits as active-duty forces unless they are activated but a deployment disrupts their lives much more than those of regular soldiers.

Haramalis' group successfully lobbied this year for legislation providing student loan repayments of up to $11,000 for guardsmen. But he said the state troops still don't have access to the military health care system unless they are activated.

"Reservists have been relied on more and more, but there has been no commensurate increase in the benefits they receive," Haramalis said. "How many people are going to follow in our footsteps?"

Monroe acknowledges that he may have trouble holding troops once they return, though he said recruitment is less of a worry since the Sept. 11 attacks.

He said he hopes improved benefits and public appreciation will encourage Guard members to stay in uniform.

"If you pay attention to soldiers and airmen, they will serve," he said. "We need to do a better job of demonstrating our appreciation for our soldiers and airmen, we just do. And I plan to make that happen."

One worry Monroe said he doesn't have is lacking the personnel to respond to state emergencies. Only 18 percent of the state Guard has been called up.

However, in the bigger picture, the heavy use of National Guard and reserve soldiers in Iraq has analysts suggesting a shake-up in the military's structure.

Some top brass have called for an increase in active-duty forces. Others, including James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, recommend better use of existing troops.

Carafano suggests moving many active-duty personnel from administrative jobs into foxhole billets. Also, he thinks reserve troops from underused specialties should be shifted to high-demand units such as military police and civil affairs.

The current military structure "is really a legacy of how we organized during the Cold War," said Carafano, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C., think tank. "During the Cold War, we didn't expect major operations year in and out."

Congress is paying attention.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, has been hearing from Guard families who say they are frustrated by extended deployments and little information about how long guardsmen will remain on active duty.

"There's a real lack of planning on the part of this administration and the Defense Department and then the families get caught in the middle," he said.

Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Escondido, is also sympathetic to the problems caused by long deployments for guardsmen, said his spokeswoman Harmony Allen.

"This is probably a good time to look at the active and reserve components of the forces," Allen said. "We need to be evaluating how well the force structure works."

Jeanette Steele: (619) 718-5182; jen.steele@uniontrib.com




09-29-03, 07:28 AM
"who spends up to $900 a month on phone bills talking to her husband."

And I thought the telephone companies supported the war because they were Republicans.

"One reason for the strong retention may be that guardsmen can't get out while their units are activated or on alert, as is the case for 118,000 guardsmen nationally. "

One reason that jailhouse convicts can't just walk away is that their cell doors are kept locked.

Open the doors, then jump aside, cover your head and protect your butt, you're in the middle of a stampede.