NYDN - Heavy Toll On Guard In Iraq War. More killed than in 'Nam
July 5, 2005
Heavy Toll On Guard In Iraq War
More killed than in 'Nam
Today the Guard death toll is 268, including Sgt. Manny Hornedo, the Brooklyn soldier killed in a suicide car bombing last Tuesday in Iraq.
By contrast, 97 Guardsmen died during the entire Vietnam War, and none was lost during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
While the overwhelming majority of fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan have been active-duty soldiers, military experts say Guard troopers are more likely to be killed in action than their regular Army comrades.
That's because many Guard units draw some of the nastiest missions in Iraq, particularly providing security for U.S. convoys, which have been attacked thousands of times with increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs.
I believe that often convoy security missions go to Guard units because they are available, or can be made readily available, regardless of unit type. It's a "soldier task" that doesn't need to be done by a Military Police unit, for instance, or an Infantry unit. Much of the reserve component, to include the Guard, are combat support or combat service support units who are available as trained, mounted (i.e., they have their own vehicles) troops when Active Component units are otherwise tasked with specific mission roles by the, usually, Active Component unit to which they belong.
"Iraq has been a rather overwhelming event for the Guard," said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent, nonprofit public policy research institute. "At least psychologically, it wasn't prepared for this kind of operation."
The Guard hasn't mobilized and deployed in these sort of numbers, to an active war zone, since WW2 and Korea. Despite deployment of fairly large scale Guard units to the Balkans, most of the time they went well after much of the active combat or pacification was well finished.
The Guard is America's oldest fighting force, dating from the 17th-century militias that protected the original 13 colonies. Former notable members include Paul Revere, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, President Bush (a fighter pilot with the Texas Air Guard) and Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II.
One-half the Army's infantry, mechanized and armored battalions are Guard units, and those combat outfits have been heavily deployed in Iraq. About 45,000 Guard troops - more than a third of the total U.S. strength - are in Iraq and another 8,000 in Afghanistan, many on their second duty tours.
New York's 42nd Infantry Division, based near Tikrit, Iraq, is the first Guard unit since World War II to command regular Army combat units.
I don't know if that's technically true. A Guard division headquarters and other units were responsible for Regular Army units in Bosnia by the third or fourth rotation. Whether that included combat units I couldn't say for certain, but certainly they didn't face, other than potentially, the sort of combat conditions and missions that the 42nd now faces.
Army officials say the Guard has performed well in a wartime environment that has stretched its soldiers and their equipment to the limit. Others say the record is mixed.
These two evaluations are not mutually exclusive. The Guard as a whole has performed quite well. But there are high points and low points to the tale.
A Kentucky Guard trooper, for example, recently became the first female soldier to win the Silver Star for combat valor since World War II. But a 42nd Infantry Division sergeant was charged last month with murdering two officers in his outfit.
Lengthy combat deployments have seriously strained the Guard and caused retention and recruiting problems some military experts worry will last for years. But relief is in sight for the citizen-soldiers: The Army disclosed last week that a major restructuring of the active Army means the number of Guard brigades in Iraq could be slashed by about three-quarters next year.
One major recruiting obstacle faced by the Guard is the in-effect turning off of the spigot: a major source of recruits for the Guard (and Reserve) has been soldiers leaving the Active Component. Nowadays, soldiers in the Active Component know that if they join the Guard, they will be mobilized, activated, and deployed to a combat zone sooner rather than later.
If you know that's going to happen anyway, and you're willing to serve, why would you leave the Active Component in the first place? Soldiers are not stupid. Really, they're not. They're at least as smart as journalists.
In WW2, IIRC, entire Guard divisions were mobilized and sent to war. Fine. Everybody was in for the duration. Regular Army soldiers weren't being discharged and then joining the Guard then either. The Guard went, fought the war, and came home. Nobody was worried about sustaining the Guard and reenlistments, nobody worried about multiple rotations. It's a whole new ballgame, and the rules are the ones we've chosen to have.