Friday, March 11, 2005

Guard got more than many bargained for

Last updated: March 11th, 2005 02:40 AM
About half of the Washington National Guard’s citizen soldiers are already home after a year’s duty in Iraq, and the rest will be on their way over the next few weeks.

They deserve the heroes’ welcome they have been getting as they return. While they understood that signing up with the Guard meant they could face danger, few probably envisioned the major role they would be called on to play in the post-9/11 world. Nationwide, 203 Guard soldiers have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan or related duties.

For the most part they have shouldered the heavy responsibility of long deployments with valor and without complaint, although there have been grumblings that they didn’t get sufficient training and equipment, and that wounded Guard and Reserve soldiers received second-class treatment compared to the regular Army.

The soldiers’ absence has been keenly felt by their own families, of course, but also by their communities. In some smaller towns, police and firefighter ranks have been depleted by the Guard activation. In parts of the drought-stricken Northwest, that is a big concern as fire season approaches.

Many Guard soldiers and their families are worried that units could be sent back to what is still a war zone. Given the U.S. military’s heavy dependance on the Guard and Reserves – they represent about 40 percent of the troop strength in Iraq – that’s not an unreasonable fear. On Monday, a delegation of anti-war family members asked Gov. Christine Gregoire to seek the Guard’s release from serving in Iraq. The governor of Montana and citizens in Oregon and Vermont have made similar requests.

It’s highly unlikely the Bush administration will approve those requests, for a simple reason: It needs all the manpower it can get. The regular Army is stretched thin over Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, recruiting is below target for both the Army and Marines, even as the Air Force and Navy – not as heavily involved in the war – are having no problem meeting their recruiting goals.

The prospect of going to war is also hurting the Army National Guard’s recruiting, now 24 percent below target.

That’s especially troubling. Guard units provide invaluable service during civil unrest and in disasters ranging from forest fires to earthquakes. The states can ill afford to have their ranks of citizen soldiers depleted as a way to keep regular Army numbers down as the administration desires. The states cannot sustain that burden much longer. | Tacoma, WA | Opinion

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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