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National Guard in Iraq Overview

The National Guard has been much in the news lately, and not just because of the President's Vietnam Era service. On September 14, President Bush addressed the National Guard Conference in Las Vegas. During that address the President suggested that candidate Kerry was undercutting the Guard by arguing that the U.S. was spending too much money in Iraq. Senator Kerry addressed the same group two days later. Kerry has been arguing that it is President Bush who is ignoring the needs of Guard members by threatening to veto an amendment to the $87 billion emergency supplemental appropriations for security and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amendment would provide an additional $1.3 billion for improved medical benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserves and veterans or what is known as TRICARE funding. Election-year politics aside, what is certain is that the citizen soldiers of the National Guard are facing unprecedented challenges.

National Guard Numbers

National Guard men and women and reservists are taking on an increasing burden in Iraq and the war on terror. A commitment which used to amount to several weeks a year has become full-time service. According to a NEW YORK TIMES interview with Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas F. Hall, since the September 11 attacks, these part-time soldiers have been called to full-time service in numbers not seen since World War II. The National Guard, or "weekend warriors", most often served their states in emergency and disaster relief roles. According to the Department of Defense, today, there are over 160,000 guardsmen and reservists currently on active duty worldwide. Out of the 2 million soldiers who went to Vietnam, only about 9,000 were Army National Guard members.

Roughly half of the U.S. forces deployed for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are part-time troops called to active duty from the Army National Guard and Reserve. At least 179 of these soldiers had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This percentage is also expected to rise as reserve and guard units take an increasing share of the overseas service.

Today's Challenges

Members of the House Armed Services Committee have expressed concern over the critical role of Guard and Reserve troops in Iraq. Part of the worry has been over combat readiness and equipment supplies.State and local officials are also feeling the effect of the change as their emergency "first responders" are unavailable to them. Small towns might lose members of police and fire departments to full-time reserve service; governors might lose their units overseas. Some 15 states are now left with fewer than 60 percent of their forces at home.

Guard members and families are also feeling the pinch. A late 2003 study by the General Accounting Office found that 94 percent of Army National Guard soldiers had experienced pay problems since they were deployed. Additionally, the pay levels for service may not reach the same levels as those for their civilian jobs. However, some companies are able to make up the difference for guard families.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) oF 1994 provides job protection and rights of reinstatement to employees who participate in the National Guard and Reserve. A returning employee should receive a job with the same status and seniority and be allowed to contribute to pensions plans and accrue other benefits. However, the GAO report also found that "Increasing numbers of National Guard and Reserve troops who have returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan are encountering new battles with their civilian employers at home. Jobs were eliminated, benefits reduced and promotions forgotten." Over 4,000 claims have been filed under these grounds since September 11.

The Stop Loss Policy

National Guard and Army Reserve members are also affected by the ongoing Stop Loss Policy, which allows the Pentagon to keep soldiers whose enlistment is due to expire in order to maintain troop strength and unit integrity. The restrictions bar voluntary separations and retirements for soldiers in designated units beginning 90 days before deployment until 90 days after their units return to their home stations. Specifically, "the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States." A Stop Loss order for National Guard and Reserve units activated for the war against terrorism has been in effect since November 2002. Army officials announced June 1 the latest Active Army Stop Loss/Stop Movement Program for active Army units preparing for deployment overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom remains in effect.

A lawsuit, Doe v. Rumsfeld, was filed against the Stop Loss Policy in August of 2004 in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of an Army recruit who served nine years on active duty, most recently in Iraq. The plaintiff is currently a reservist in the California National Guard. The suit contends that the plaintiff only signed up for one year, and that the stop loss could force him "to return to Iraq for up to two years, and possible continued military service beyond that time." Some critics have referred to the Stop Loss policy as a "backdoor draft."

The GAO released two reports on September 15, 2004 which specifically address the issues faced by today's National Guard. "Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Address Long-term Reserve Force Availability and Related Mobilization and Demobilization Issues," states that the "[Department of Defense's] implementation of a key mobilization authority to involuntarily call up reserve component members and personnel policies greatly affects the numbers of reserve members available to fill requirements." The other report warned "Military Personnel: DOD Needs More Data Before It Can Determine if Costly Changes to the Reserve Retirement System Are Warranted."

America's Heroes
The non-profit organization America's Heroes of Freedom has been meeting urgent needs of wounded Marines returning via Medivac from Iraq to Bethesda Naval Hospital since January 2004. The group supplies care package to soldiers. The organization also assists and honors civil servants, EMS (Emergency Medical Services, e.g. Fire, Police, Rescue), physicians, nurses, and other volunteers.

National Guard Bureau
Official site of the Pentagon bureau which administers both the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard. The site includes a mobilization reference center, information the TRICARE health care program and links to the Department of Reserve Affairs.

Department of Labor's The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) Advisor
Guidelines for both employers and employees affected by job absences due to military service.

National Committee For Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve
This agency within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs was created in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve component members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee's military commitment. The site has extensive resources for both employers and lists employers who have expanded their pay differential and medical coverage policies for Reserve and National Guard members called to active duty, beyond the requirements of federal law.

Department of Defense
The Department of Defense's official Web site publishes daily casualty reports. The site also provides official news reports from the Iraq and Afghan operations and issues a daily press release.

Department of Defense Military Casualty Information
These reports, from the Department of Defense Directorate of Information Operations and Reports, cover wars from the Korean Conflict through Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reports for the Iraq conflict are released less frequently that those on the main Department of Defense site (see above) but are much more detailed, breaking death and wounded figures down by race, gender, rank and age.

The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC)
Founded in 1995 and based at the office of the Vietnam Veterans of America in Washington, DC, the NGWRC is non-profit, international coalition of advocates and organizations providing a resource for information, support, and referrals for all those concerned with the complexities of Persian Gulf War issues. The NGWRC is especially concerned in advocating for veterans with Gulf War illnesses and those held prisoner or missing in action.

America's Wars
The Department of Veteran's Affairs list the best obtainable numbers on battle and non-battle deaths and wounded for all America's wars from the Revolution though the Gulf War. At the bottom of the page the DOV estimates the rapidly decreasing number of living World War II veterans.

Sources: BVA legislative bulletin, 2003; CQ, 10/20/03, Statement of Administration Policy, 10/16/03; NEW YORK TIMES; THE STAR-LEDGER, July 11, 2004, September 9, 2004; GAO Report, "Army National Guard Personnel Mobilized to Active Duty Experienced Significant Pay Problems," 1/28/04

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