Taking stock in Iraq

Taking stock in Iraq

Hargett, Gus L

Thousands of National Guardsmen are now in Iraq involved in the mission of turning a troubled land into a peaceful and productive nation.

Theirs is a difficult and, no doubt, extremely dangerous job, one that will take months, maybe years, and perhaps even more Guardsmen to complete.

Nevertheless, it’s time to take stock in the Guard’s contributions to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There are lessons to be learned and success stories to be told.

Chief among the lessons is the National Guard mobilization experience.

LTG H. Steven Blum, the new National Guard Bureau chief, wants to streamline the Army Guard mobilization process (page 20). Undoubtedly, the buildup for operations in Iraq is his rationale.

Too many of our mobilized units sat out the major fighting at their “mob” stations. They were called up because Gen. Tommy Franks thought he needed them in Iraq. Unfortunately, the mobilization stations were in no hurry to get them there.

Part of the problem was the delay in getting the 4th Infantry Division to the tight. That division’s equipment was in some of the ships needed to move our equipment.

But a larger part of the problem was a process that discounts Guard training and accountability. A letter from a company-grade officer in the MAIL CALL (page 4) section of this magazine illustrates the situation.

Capt. Robert H. Eason Jr.’s unit spent two months at a mobilization station validating already-demonstrated readiness and undergoing redundant processing before being sent home because the war was over. He called it “a waste.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sound familiar?

This process is insulting to our people and our units. More important, it makes us late to the light. This denies combatant commanders the units they need, when they need them. It also erodes our units’ morale and their relevancy.

We can keep these problems from happening again. But this will only happen if we document our experiences, share them with the Army leadership and press for change.

Despite the mobilization difficulties, many National Guard units-Army and Air-made significant contributions during the three-week war in Iraq.

Some of these stories are being told. Unfortunately, many have been homogenized in the larger Army and Air Force contributions.

While we were proud that our units served along side our active-duty brethren, we need Congress and the American people to know that the Guardsmen mobilized for Iraq contributed to the fight. It’s vital to our relevancy-perceived and actual.

We need them to know, for example, that in many cases it was Air Guard A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that helped clear Iraqi armor in front of the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines on their way to Baghdad.

We also need them to know that Army Guard infantry units secured Patriot anti-missile sites and supply lines and that Guard Special Forces outfits teamed with Shiite resistance to take several towns ahead of the main advance.

And we need them to know that Air Guard F-16s were critical to the air war. That Air Guard refuelers helped sustain the air effort. And that Army Guard military police, engineer and transportation units are still in Iraq helping to rebuild that country.

We need them to know these and so many other contributions we made and continue to make in Iraq.

The NGAUS has ways to help get these stories out.

One is the through the pages of this magazine. We need pictures and stories from Iraq to print in the months ahead. Another is our conference. We are looking for Iraqi Freedom veterans who can come to Biloxi, Miss., in September and tell their stories.

By sharing your experiences, you are telling the Guard story and strengthening our message to Congress, the Pentagon and the American people. You are also sharing lessons learned to those who may someday follow in your footsteps.

Take the time to document and share your mobilization and deployment experiences. I’ve focused on Iraq but the same applies to every mission. By doing so, you will be helping your unit and the Guard.

Copyright National Guard Association of the United States Jul 2003

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