Van E. Harl
ON THE BACKS OF THE GUARDS AND RESERVES
Even as Desert Storm was raging and we had in excess of 450,000 combined US military troops involved in that war, down-sizing of the Department of Defense was occurring.
The cold war was allegedly over. Remember the Berlin wall had fallen and our nation was determined to cash in on the peace dividend. All that money we were annually spending to stop the commie hordes of the Soviet Union from over running the peace loving western European countries could now be redirected at new and improved social warfare programs inside the US.
The problem was, in order to get all this extra military money that was supposed to be lying around, you first had to stop the cash flow to the military. One of the biggest expenses of the military as well as civilian companies, is the regular paycheck of the solider/employee. Now when a civilian company lays off employees to save money it is called “right sizing.” When our military gets rid of trained and prepared troops in order to save taxpayer money, it is call a future disaster.
The worldwide operations tempo of the US military since the early 1990’s (when all this downsizing started) has not slowed down or even skipped a beat. We removed large numbers of already qualified soldiers from the active duty ranks. Money for equipment and infrastructure upgrades were dramatically cut back. At the same time the oversea deployment commitment just kept getting bigger.
I was a Security Policeman in the Air Force. The ranks of that career field, to include the active duty, guard and reserve shrank by almost a third. But again the overseas deployment missions just kept coming. When bullets are flying the first thing you hear from senior military leaders is to “double the guard.” This means put more troops with rifles in their hands walking around guarding those multi-million dollar aircraft and their sleeping aircrews.
Now at first blush, that seams only prudent. But where do all these extra troops come from to facilitate the manpower needed to “double that guard?” Why the National Guard and Reserve of course. There sits all those trained and ready to deploy troops and after all they are just hanging out at home tending to their civilian lives. We only want to borrow them for two short years.
Right after the “911” attack we called up large numbers of reserve special operations troops and sent them forward. Some of those troops were gone from their home and family for the entire two years. Now mind you we don’t even do that to the active duty services members. A navy ship may go to sea for six to nine months or a soldier is stationed in Korea for a year without her family, but none of this two-year separation stuff.
Unfortunately the big issue for the guardsman or reservist is that, the part time military is not their life-sustaining career. It is as stated – a part time job. Please don’t get me wrong it is an extremely important to-this-nation, part time job. But, that reserve military position is not what is paying the mortgage and putting kids through college back home. It is their civilian career that meets these family needs and those civilian careers are suffering.
Yes I know there are laws that require civilian employees to hold the jobs for returning activated guardsman, but career wise, what was lost for that person while he was gone for a year or two? How about promotions or transfers to new and improve positions within that civilian work environment. If you are a civilian police officer and you miss testing for sergeant or lieutenant while you were on temporary active duty, it may take you years to catch up with your contemporaries. Again your full time civilian career (the bill payer) has suffered a potential major setback.
What about the young airman who joined the guard to get money for college? All that tuition assistance is great, but if you are constantly having a college semester lost to you, because of call-ups, it could take you many extra years to finish that four-year degree. After any major activation of the guard and reserve is over, there is always a loss of young enlisted troops and junior officers.
When this latest Iraq punch-up is over, we are going to see a major exiting of career NCOs and field grade officers from the ranks of the part time marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen. One out of every six service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq has been a reservist or guardsman. That statistic is not going to help guard recruiting. There is a strong resistance to increasing the size of the active duty military. This thought process has to change. We are going to need a strong National Guard when the next terrorist attack occurs on US soil.
We cannot allow this over use of the guard and reserve to decimate their ranks. There are predictions of 30 percent or higher losses in the guard and reserve when this latest round of call-ups is over. We do not and will not have the time to rebuild the guard and reserve in the wake of another “9-11” crisis. The Pentagon has to build up the end strength of the active duty military to meet today’s and tomorrow’s defense needs. We as a nation cannot win this or any war on the backs of the National Guard and Reserve.
©Copyright January 15, 2004 by Van E. Harl