September 5, 2008
Among the stresses of daily life rising fuel prices, falling home values, a faltering economy Americans might forget that The United States has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for seven years. But for families with members in the military, the wars are part of daily life.
Not all the troops participating in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are full time soldiers. Many of the U.S. forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are part-time troops called to active duty from the Army National Guard and Reserve. These teachers, maintenance workers, business-owners, fathers and mothers have been called to active duty in numbers not seen since World War II.
A.R.M.S., a New Jersey charity, is gearing up to provide support to the 3,000 New Jersey National Guard members who have been called to active duty in Iraq. BILL MOYERS JOURNAL spoke with Ronnie Micciulla, who runs A.R.M.S. Watch the web-exclusive video below.
>>Read the BERGEN RECORD's "New Jersey at War" coverage.
>>Learn more about supporting the National Guard
>>Learn more about supporting veterans
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Depleting the Reserves
The National Guard was considered a "strategic reserve" during the Cold War, kept ready for a possible conflict with the Soviet Union. During this time, they were mostly called into active duty for emergency and disaster relief roles. Out of the 2 million soldiers who went to Vietnam, only about 9,000 were Army National Guard members. Since of the Cold War, the National Guard has evolved into a more integral part of the military's operational forces. This new role is integral to the "War on Terror" according to a report (PDF) by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, over 200,000 guardsmen and reservists have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
At least 540 National Guard members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and many more wounded. According the VFW, 49% of National Guard members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have returned from war with mental health problems a rate 29% higher than their active-duty counterparts. Also, unlike active duty soldiers, who receive weeks or months to rest, retrain and recuperate after a deployment, National Guard members are quickly decommissioned, sometimes after as little as a week, and must immediately return to civilian life and work.
Along with the responsibilities of work and family, domestic military duties also await many reservists. After a tour of Iraq, Louisiana's 256th BCT returned home to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Almost one-third of them found their homes had been destroyed. Still, six hundred of them volunteered to remain on active duty and help recovery efforts.
The special strains that prolonged war has on citizen-soldiers has not gone unnoticed. A report released in early 2008 by the congressional Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found that using the National Guard as an operational force within the Cold War framework is damaging the institution. From the report:
[T]he current pattern of using the reserves is endangering this valuable national asset, and reforming laws and policies will be necessary to reverse the damage done and make certain that an operational reserve is sustainable.
The fact that in some respects the reserve components are currently being used operationally does not make them a sustainable operational force. The reserve components were not established to be employed on a rotational basis, and key underlying laws, regulations, policies, funding mechanisms, pay categories, mobilization processes, and personnel rules that manage the reserve components will have to be modified to support their evolution into such an operational force.
Some contend that the reliance on the National Guard does not only endanger foreign missions, it also leaves the United States without a force able to respond to attacks and disasters on U.S. soil. Retired Marine Major General Arnold L. Punaro, chair of the commission, told the WASHINGTON POST in an interview that there is an "appalling gap" of readiness in the reserves to protect the United States domestically.
Published on September 5, 2008.