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Ironduke
13 Jan 04,, 03:05
Reserves Still Not Getting The Best
Houston Chronicle
January 12, 2004

WASHINGTON - National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers are fighting alongside active-duty troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but with Vietnam-era rifles, fewer bullet-proof vests, outdated radios and Humvees that lack armor plating, some officials said.

"You would expect the government to give you the best if you were going in harm's way, but the fact is the Guard is not getting the same equipment and training as the active-duty forces," said Mike Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard. "The Guard and Reserve get what trickles down."

By late spring, nearly 40 percent of the combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will be drawn from the reserves and National Guard as the Pentagon spreads the burden from an active-duty military that has shrunk over the past two decades.

Going into hostile territory will be guardsmen and reservists whose role in defending America had been envisioned as part-time until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now these troops are being sent into combat zones with a greater frequency than at any time in 50 years, making what some see as a disparity in equipment, training and treatment a major concern.

Richard C. Alexander, a retired U.S. Marine major general who heads the National Guard Association of the United States, a fraternal organization for Guard officers, said substandard equipment "is the reality of the situation in many cases."

Asked how well the Pentagon had done in equipping the Guard, the retired general said, "On a scale of one to 10, maybe a five."

Among the specific complaints outlined to congressional investigators and in recent interviews are:

-- A California Guard unit was forced to turn to local police organizations, where some members were employed, to secure high-tech body armor before heading for Iraq.

-- Guard and Army Reserve units from all over the country deployed with older, unarmored models of the Humvee light trucks -- if they could get them at all. The Army National Guard was 13,000 Humvees short of the number it was supposed to have at the beginning of 2003, and those shortfalls were never corrected, said Cline.

-- A Tennessee Guard member told senior Guard officials that he was required to transport active-duty soldiers from Kuwait to Baghdad without being provided body armor that his passengers were wearing. He also lacked night vision goggles. The Guard was 100,000 sets short of having enough night-vision equipment, Cline said.

Among the most widespread complaints of Guard troops is that they got far fewer of the upgraded Army body armor systems that include two bullet-proof plates protecting vital organs. The Pentagon acknowledged the shortage and said the new systems are being rushed to Afghanistan and Iraq as quickly as they can be made.

-- An Illinois Guard unit that lost a Chinook helicopter to enemy fire in November in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war was deployed to air defense systems in Iraq with helicopters that lacked the latest automatic anti-rocket defense systems, according to congressional investigators.

One official who probed the incident said the doomed helicopter's lack of an automatically triggered missile-blocking system wouldn't have changed the outcome -- the helicopter was directly targeted at close range. But it symbolized the willingness to send the Guard to battle without the most modern equipment, the official said.

"On the front lines these days, it's nearly impossible to distinguish between a Guard or Reserve soldier and an active-duty soldier, by the assignments they are given. But sometimes the disparity in the equipment they are using gives it away," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Responding to numerous constituent calls from Guard and Reserve members who felt poorly equipped, Congress added $250 million to a discretionary equipment account to be used by the National Guard and the Reserve.

"We gave the Guard great discretion in determining how to use these funds, whether on up-armored Humvees, night-vision goggles, new M-4 carbines or on other equipment the Guard needs to seamlessly blend with active-duty forces in fulfilling their missions," Leahy said.

The military has become more dependent on reserves than at any time since the days after Pearl Harbor. That has put great stress on military personnel who volunteered for what they believed would be part-time or occasional duty rather than combat tours lasting many months.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld listed "rebalancing" the way the military's reserve forces are used as his first priority for the coming year in his first briefing of the year Tuesday.

"For whatever reason, the Department of Defense -- 15, 20-plus years ago -- made a conscious decision that they did not want to have on active duty a number of the skill sets that are needed to go to war, that they kept those in the Reserve and the Guard," Rumsfeld said.

"Any time you have an event like Bosnia or Afghanistan or Iraq, you need to get those people out of the Reserves. ... If that happens two or three times in a row, you end up mobilizing and activating a set of Guard and Reserve people who didn't really sign up for full-time duty; they signed up for periodic duty."

The war on terror arrived at the end of a post-Cold War downsizing of the military that intentionally put far more emphasis on using part-time troops than had been the case for at least a half-century. That is especially felt in the U.S. Army.

As the Army was reduced from 18 divisions to 10 in the last decade, an assumption grew that the Guard and Reserve would pick up any slack in times of regional, brush-fire wars.

The specific type of war in Iraq and Afghanistan -- fighting irregular forces while trying to maintain order and administer populations -- have strained active-duty forces to the breaking point. That's because in the post-Vietnam era, Pentagon leaders decided to transfer some military jobs almost entirely to reserve forces. That included military police and civil affairs, two of the types of soldiers most needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as places such as Kosovo and Bosnia.

With Guard and Reserve units increasingly asked to perform in combat zones, the level of training they receive also has become a critical issue.

In late December, the Pentagon unexpectedly announced it was dispatching 3,500 active-duty troops with the 82nd Airborne to Iraq early in 2004. The reason -- a National Guard brigade out of Washington state that was to go was deemed insufficiently trained to handle street patrolling in a combat zone.

By late spring, the total projected U.S. force of about 105,000 could be more than one-third National Guard troops -- 35,700 -- with thousands more being Army Reserve soldiers.

At least 80 Guard and Reserve soldiers have been killed in Iraq -- 38 by hostile fire and 42 in accidents and other nonhostile acts, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking. Scores more have been wounded.

Texas has hundreds of reservists who have been called to active duty. While the physical danger is real, the separation from home, and in some cases a sense of being required to do too much, is a greater concern for most reservists.

Lt. Gen. Wayne D. Marty, commander of the Texas National Guard, said most Texans in the Guard are accepting the call with resignation. "They are prepared, they are professional, they are accepting this," he said. "We've had a tremendous number of people volunteer to go. There are very few requests saying, 'I don't want to go." They understood when they joined the Guard this day could come. And it has come."

Texas National Guard Capt. Clarence Henderson of Houston returned in December from a lengthy activation that included six months in Afghanistan, helping to train the fledgling Afghan army, then patrolling with it in combat zones.

Before Henderson's unit was released, they spent time at Fort Hood, facing a possible swift deployment to Iraq, which would have added another year or 15 months on duty.

"It is a consensus of all of us, if they order us to go, we'll go. But none of us are raising our hands to turn around and go," Henderson said. "Most of the other guys have wives and kids and they really don't want to leave home again."

Just before Christmas, Henderson's unit was given an early present: No deployment to Iraq. They were told they could resume their civilian lives.

Sgt. Jeffrey Crook, 25, of Houston, said there is speculation that his radar detachment, normally attached to a field artillery battalion, will be retrained to serve as military police. "We really don't know what our mission is going to be," said Crook, who said he expected to be deployed overseas in the coming weeks.

Crook, who served in the active-duty Army in Kosovo and Bosnia, said his detachment hasn't received any specialized, battlefield training yet, though it has been assured that will happen. As a single man with few family responsibilities, Crook said he'd welcome the chance to train as an MP. "I want to get as much out of the military as I can." he said. "The basic morale of our unit is high. The wives and girlfriends are sad, but overall morale is good."

Guardsmen and reservists interviewed said they accepted the hardships and dangers of recent call-ups, and were proud of their service. But they did complain about some of the differences they perceived between treatment of their units and active-duty soldiers.

The biggest inequity, according to some, is that Guard and Reserve soldiers on combat assignments are locked in for the length of their tours -- one year of boots on the ground -- while they see active-duty officers and soldiers rotating home for stateside assignments.

"We were resigned to being there for the duration, but when we saw active-duty officers coming in for a month or two to get their combat patch, then leaving, we were upset," Henderson said.

"Put yourself in the position of a captain or major in the Guard who has left his family and a good job behind, and he sees active-duty officers rotating out. It is tough and frustrating. It is definitely something we've heard about," said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States.

"The question we hear is, 'Are we just over here to facilitate (active-duty officers') career advancement?' " Goheen said. "People ask why their tours are being extended while active-duty people are going home. It is difficult to justify."

A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged the disparity has existed, but said it was being rectified with a new rule, issued this week, that no personnel can leave Iraq or Afghanistan until their one-year tours are completed.

Goheen said the war on terrorism has placed almost crushing stress on many Guard units.

"Some units have already been on active duty since October. They are going to Iraq in March, and will be gone for a year. Then they will spend time on duty back in the states before being demobilized," Goheen said. "They will be away from their families until the late spring or early summer of 2005. Employers are losing people, officers and NCOs with fairly responsible positions for a good, long time."

While the Guard is proud of the confidence placed in it by the Pentagon to trust large units with independent responsibilities, there are concerns.

"Even though these are enhanced brigades, they are concerned that they are just now receiving some of the equipment that they will be using over there," Goheen said. "We are just not resourced to respond quickly when it comes to weapons, radios, (armored) vests."

http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,FL_reserves_011204,00.html