The guard is the best yet

Published 6:53 am Monday, March 15, 2010

I was wrong about the National Guard. They are not a bunch of weekend playboys. The Minnesota National Guard, and those of the other states that have contributed to the war on terrorism, are professional soldiers in the finest American tradition. I am grateful to them and proud of them.

I confess to a certain level of inter-service rivalry, and I haven’t always felt the respect and confidence that I do at this moment.

It seems to be inevitable that rivalry, not always nice, develops between elements of the armed forces. The Army-Navy football game is most dramatic, and the legendary animosity between marines and sailors the worst (probably because both are part of the US Navy and neither likes to admit it). The active duty components of all three branches have tended to look down upon the reserve components as being part-timers and semi-professional. Just as the active duty of the three services rival each other, elements of the reserve components have this tendency.

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As a long-time member of the US Army Reserve, and initially the Naval Reserve, I shared in some doubts about the National Guard (state organizations heavily funded by the federal government, too much so we enviously thought). Some were, shall we say, cultural, but many were based on valid observations. Individual Guard units were at times playboys and unprofessional. But this historic fact is not my point here and would actually compromise it. So, back to my pride in the National Guard, and let’s stay there.

These men and woman have made — and continue to make — personal sacrifices I never was called upon to make. (It’s a different world, and Reserve units are now doing the same as the Guard.) My overseas deployments as a Reserve officer were voluntary. However much guardsmen and women are willing to be mobilized, there isn’t much voluntary about it. Some have had to leave home, family, and work multiple times.

Although I am knowledgably sensitive to what they and their families suffer, I’m not certain how I would react and feel if I had had to go though these mobilizations and deployments. When I see them torn from families, I weep in grief; when I see them reunited, I cry with joy.

The Defense Department doesn’t send any directly and immediately into combat areas, but provides excellent and thorough pre-deployment training. When they move out, they are ready. But despite how much fun they may have had on weekends and two-week annual training and despite the unmilitary socializing and sometimes political maneuvering, they were ready to be made ready.

Actually, it’s always been this way. My initial impression of the Wisconsin National Guard was formed by watching their cavalry units playing polo on Sunday afternoons.

Then I witnessed the 32d Infantry Division mobilized in 1940 for the Louisiana Maneuvers and deployment to the Pacific Theater. Its war record is outstanding.

Every time the National Guard has been mobilized for war, the National Guard has come through. This war on terrorism is no exception to this tradition.

What is the exception from earlier wars is that, because of the insurgency nature of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no such thing a rear echelon unit.

Everyone is in the thick of it.

During what were called the world wars, it was the riflemen who were at greatest risk; now it’s the vehicle drivers.

Colonel that I am, I should be honored to salute any Private in this National Guard.

God bless you, every one.