|NATIONAL GUARD REPORTS TO DUTY|
September 22, 2005
A six-month tour in Afghanistan is the latest deployment for Oregon's 1042nd Medical Evacuation Company, a National Guard unit that has been sent to Bosnia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in recent years. Correspondent Tom Bearden looks at how the unit and the members' families are coping with the frequent deployments.
TOM BEARDEN: On a hot summer day at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a crew from the Oregon National Guard practiced hoisting a soldier out of a simulated mine field. The crew from the 1042nd Medical Evacuation Company also practiced the more traditional job of removing badly wounded people from the battlefield. Part of the 1042nd was in the final stages of training before leaving for a six month deployment to Afghanistan.
TOM BEARDEN: Does it give you pause at all to think you might be doing the rescue mission for a wounded soldier for real in a few weeks?
SGT. MIKE BARBER: You know, the National Guard is voluntary, we volunteered to be in it, and this is why we did it. You know, we're going to do what we've been trained to do and it's not just save our soldiers, NATO soldiers, enemy soldiers, civilians and you know we're there for everybody.
|Personal tolls of deployment|
TOM BEARDEN: This is not the 1042nd's first overseas deployment. The NewsHour profiled the Salem, Oregon-based unit in May of 2000, when it was stationed at Camp Eagle in Central Bosnia, as part of the NATO peacekeeping force. Since then, 1042nd soldiers have spent time in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In fact, a majority of the members, like pilot Earl Poole, have spent much of the last five years overseas.
CW EARL POOLE: Almost as much time as I have been back home.
TOM BEARDEN: Is that tough on your family?
CW EARL POOLE: It is. It is really hard for my wife to juggle. She takes care of five kids and is still working. She's probably having a harder time than I'm having right now.
TOM BEARDEN: Mindy Hagerman had a hard time, too, when her husband Rob went to Bosnia five years ago. She served as the family coordinator for the 1042nd during the nine months he was gone, trying to help other spouses cope with the separation. Her son, Tyler, was a newborn then. Daughter Bree was three.
BREE HAGERMAN: I really -- I really missed him when he was gone. And when he came home I it was like a miracle and I was glad that he hadn't passed away.
TOM BEARDEN: When First Lt. Hagerman returned, his family gave him a grand welcome home, but the readjustment was hard.
MINDY HAGERMAN: And it just was almost overwhelming in the sense that it was so different from Bosnia and the lifestyle he was leading there, and what he was seeing and how the people, the civilians of Bosnia were living, versus how we were living. And just the transition, I think was hard, not to mention a new son he didn't know. You know. I had three other people that I was really close with. And they were kind of my co-coordinators. And of the four of us, three of us had divorces. It broke us.
TOM BEARDEN: The Hagermans are not alone. Divorce rates throughout the army have more than doubled in the last five years, as soldiers are increasingly sent on long deployments. Some 1042nd members also suffered financially while they were gone. Sgt. William Kelly took a 50 percent pay cut while he was in Bosnia repairing helicopters. When he returned to his job with a small logging firm in Oregon, he felt distinctly unwelcome. Eventually, he quit after a second deployment.
SGT. WILLIAM KELLY: Now you can make a law saying that you have to get your job back with benefits and any pay increases, but you cannot legislate the attitude of the people that you were working with.
TOM BEARDEN: Lt. Col. Mathew Brady commanded the 1042nd in Bosnia and later in Afghanistan. Despite the personal toll-- he himself divorced-- he says those missions helped soldiers prepare for the more dangerous missions they're doing now. Brady now works in the Pentagon at the Army Operations Center, but was back in Oregon this summer visiting his children.
LT. COL. MATHEW J. BRADY: I think Bosnia was a really good training experience for us. There wasn't... you know, we weren't getting shot at. It gave us an opportunity to use the aviation safety equipment and the things on the aircraft that taught us how to be safe in that environment.
|Limits on deployment lengths|
TOM BEARDEN: The 1042nd's repeated activation and deployment is not unusual. It stems from the post-Vietnam decision to put critical support activities, like MedEvac, into Guard and reserve units instead of the active Army.
Traditionally, reservists trained one weekend a month and for two weeks in the summer. Occasionally they were called up for emergencies. Stints on active duty came more frequently during operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, and after 9/11, deployments were longer and even more frequent.
But under the current mobilization authority, there is a legal limit on how long soldiers like these can be called up; it's 24 months in any five year period. Many have already reached that cap and many others are approaching it. As a result, about 60 percent of the soldiers in the Guard and Reserve are now considered ineligible for normal 18 month deployments.
Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, commander of the Army Reserve, warned of a looming problem.
LT. GEN. JAMES HELMLY: It's a serious challenge. The 24 months is a matter of statute first, a partial mobilization law and then the way we have implemented that within the Department of Defense restricts that further.
TOM BEARDEN: Retired Brig. Gen. David McGinnis, who now works as a military analyst, says that the challenge is even greater for some specialty units.
BRIG. GEN. DAVID McGINNIS: All of the National Guard special Operations forces have been exhausted under this authority. Most of the National Guard aviation forces, all of the civil affairs psychological operations and combat service support forces have been exhausted under this authority, which make up the heart of the army reserve have been exhausted under this authority.
We are approaching a crisis. The president is going to have to go to Congress and ask for Congress to give him additional authority or he's going to have to declare a new national emergency, which will allow him to restart the clock, the 24- month clock.
TOM BEARDEN: But Lt. Gen. Helmly says that other Pentagon planners are finding other ways to address the issue, everything from farming out non-essential services to private contractors, to restructuring the entire Army.
LT. GEN. JAMES HELMLY: We are restructuring about 100,000 spaces in the Army. That's not taking down size. It is taking artillery units, making them into MP; it's using manpower to stand up brand new, high demand, low density civil affairs, psy-ops units.
TOM BEARDEN: But some high-skill units, like MedEvac, couldn't be quickly replaced. And so the problem remains. Some of the 1042nd troops bound for Afghanistan are so close to exceeding the 24-month cap that the Army couldn't have legally required them to go. This is Chief Warrant Officer Richard Chagnon's third lengthy deployment in five years.
RICHARD CHAGNON: We have some people that are reaching their maximum amount of call up time. Like on this mission, all of us here, all of us volunteered to go on this. We see that it is important to do that.
If we didn't volunteer, they with take some other unit, I feel sorry for the active duty units, they get pulled out and come home and then they are going back again for a year.
TOM BEARDEN: The majority of the 1042nd's troops are staying behind in Salem. Weekend drills go on as usual; equipment has to be maintained, the paperwork done. And the state has plenty of things for them to do, fighting forest fires, for example, or conducting high-altitude mountain rescues. Maj. Mark Ulvin is the current commander of the 1042nd.
TOM BEARDEN: Some states are concerned that deployment of National Guard units is drawing down the state's ability to deal with those kinds of missions.
MAJ. MARK ULVIN: Well, it's so true. I mean, you can't double your resources in order to keep troops back home and then also have them deployed overseas. So yes, there is definitely a draw of state assets out of the state for these deployments.
TOM BEARDEN: Frequent deployments have also had an impact on recruiting and retention. Sgt. Janet Christy went to Bosnia, and after 9/11, also went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to support 1042nd members in Afghanistan the first time. Despite her enthusiasm for the 1042nd, Christy is no longer with the unit. She now works as a supply technician at the Oregon National Guard's headquarters in Salem.
SGT. JANET CHRISTY: When I got back from Fort. Bragg, both my kids sat me down and asked me to find a different job that wouldn't take me away from home for so long. And I told them that I wanted to finish what I started. You know, it's been 17 years. I'm not going to quit. I said, but I will try to find a unit where the where the possibilities aren't as great.
|Reserve versus active duty|
TOM BEARDEN: In an effort to relive some of the burden, the Pentagon is retraining active duty soldiers to take on some of the missions currently held by the Reserve and Guard. But it's not going to happen overnight and the idea of sending some jobs back to active duty forces worries former Commander Brady. He thinks in some cases the reserves are better qualified because of their extensive civilian experience.
LT. COL. MATHEW J. BRADY: The guys that are in the back working on patients are EMT's, you know, they work for major fire departments, they're emergency room nurses. The skill level of the medic in the reserve component MedEvac unit far exceeds that kid on active duty. Now that we've been at war for a while, and everybody's getting the same experience, probably as far as combat experience, they're very equal. But in the big picture of trauma and taking care of you know serious wounds, I'd put the 1042nd or any National Guard MedEvac unit to any active duty unit any day.
TOM BEARDEN: The 1042nd's record will be hard to match. No one lost, no one seriously injured, despite being in some of the most dangerous places around.