By Alan Caruba
Here’s an interesting fact. Between now and the end of President Bush’s term in office, almost half of the soldiers who are scheduled to deploy to Iraq will come from the National Guard.
Here’s another; At least 35 states have deployed more National Guard units to Iraq and Afghanistan than to any war since World War II.
I learned these facts from the Veterans for America (VFA), an organization that describes its mission as encouraging the American public to support policies that address the needs of those currently in the military, veterans, victims of war overseas, as well as initiatives to make our world more secure.
“VFA builds on the 26-year history of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation—cofounder and coordinator of the Nobel Prize-winning Campaign to Ban Landmines. There is a social contract between a nation and those it sends to war.”
I cannot tell you how much of VFA’s agenda is pro-veteran and how much is anti-war, but I suspect it tilts to the latter much of the time. It should definitely not be confused with the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion.
That said, the statistics it cites are worthy of consideration. For example, more than half of the National Guard combat units deploying to Iraq between now and the end of Bush’s term will be on their second tour.
In the months ahead, units from Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington will send units to these combat zones. In the spring of 2009, by which time the U.S. will have a new President, the following states will send National Guard troops; Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania (again), Tennessee, Texas (again), Vermont, and Wisconsin.
This has got to be highly disruptive to families, employers and communities in the states where this is occurring and it raises the question of why the federal government is so dependent on these men and women as opposed to the full-time military. In our zeal following the Vietnam War to end conscription--the Draft—and create a professional Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force from enlistees, somewhere along the way we have failed to meet adequate manpower needs.
The fallback has been the National Guard whom governors traditionally call upon for assistance in times of natural disasters. Here’s what the Congressional Research Service has to say about the National Guard:
“The National Guard plays a major role in the defense and security of the United States under the federal component of its mission. Although the military reserve component’s responsibilities and duties have increased since 2001, a March 2007 report by the congressionally chartered independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves has found that many Army and Air National Guard units stationed in the United States are rated “not ready.” That rating is based primarily on current military equipment shortages and concerns for long-term operational reserve capacity.”
Not ready? No long-term operational reserve capacity? What’s wrong with this picture?
It has been many decades since I served in the Army and I lay no claim to understanding much about the role of the National Guard, but common sense suggests that the heavy reliance on it for combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan reveals a real need to build up the troop strength in our current, fulltime professional military.
The only other option would be a return to the Draft to meet present and future needs, but I don’t see that happening for a whole range of reasons. The nation currently depends on a fairly thin slice of Americans willing to serve.
For now, the dependence on the National Guard should be a cause for concern. Given the other things Americans are concerned with, it is not likely to be high on the list.