The 43% Solution
Two days ago I learned that an extended family member is being shipped off to Iraq. His upcoming mission will be “to protect the new Iraqi government.” This obligatory service would not have bothered me if he were serving in the US Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines. No, what is sticking in my craw is that this young man is a member of the Minnesota National Guard.
He enlisted in the US Army in the 1990s and was honorably discharged in 2000. Since then he has acquired a wife, two baby girls, a career and a small mortgage. His National Guard obligation was supposed to be up next month, but due to his unit’s activation, he will instead be on a troop transport with dozens of other Minnesotans heading for Baghdad International Airport in October. He has been told to prepare for up to two years of service. Like any good soldier he is bucking up and preparing for duty.
My family has a long military tradition, both past and present. I hold the men and women who serve in uniform in the highest regard. It is precisely because of this that these events are causing me earnest indignation. This extended reliance on the Guard and Reserves is an abuse of the system, the soldiers and the taxpayers.
For the first time since the Korean War, the Reserves and National Guard are being activated in incredibly large numbers for extended duties that would normally be performed by the regular military. John Kerry has coined this phenomenon a “back door draft”. Unfortunately I have to agree.
Last year, during major combat operations, 25% of the troops on the ground in Iraq were Reservists or National Guard. Currently that number his risen sharply to 39% and it is not getting any better. On July 7, the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, told Congress
that in 2005 he expects non-regular military to reach 43% of all troops in Iraq.
Did you catch that? Almost half of our 130,000 soldiers in Iraq will be “Weekend Warriors”.
That translates to approximately 56,000 men and women who have established civilian lives with families, bills and obligations. In general they are much older than enlisted soldiers. Many of them will be force to sell homes, move their families or make other drastic adjustments. Gaurdsmen, reservists and their families are not eligible for many of the services and benefits that the regular military receives. Not-so little things like healthcare, family support and job security are not guaranteed. This is a scurrilous affront to those troops who are activated for long stretches of time. Those politicians who are not hastily working to remedy this should be ashamed.
For the most part these patriotic individuals signed up to serve their country as the last line of military defense, the traditional role of the Guard and Reserves. Dire times, such as an invasion of America or major world conflict are the ultimate mission of these part-time soldiers. Somehow I doubt most them think that being sent into frontline duties in Iraq fits that bill.
In my opinion, the National Guard should be viewed and treated as a special and unique case because of their obligation to serve their home state. It remains to be seen how these “federal” deployments will affect these state duties. Governors have long relied on the Guard for such crises as urban unrest and natural disasters. Who are they going to call?
These troops are simply political cover for a mission that has spiraled beyond the worse case scenarios that the administration projected. It would not behoove the President to have to admit to the world or the American people that our military has been stretched way too thin. This tacit revelation may be the biggest strategy blunder of our generation. I am sure that our potential opponents have taken notice.
Military recruiters say they have met their goals but they have not been able to actually increase the size of the volunteer army. And while reenlistment numbers and stop-loss orders appear to have stabilized the troop levels of the regular forces, the Reserves and Guard have seen a notable decline in both retention and new recruits. Gee, I wonder why?
**Updated to reflect the Korean War deployment of Guard and Reserves