National Guard August 2011 : Page 32
Citizen Warrior A d ec ad e o f w a r didn’t b re ak th e Nati o na l Gua r d . It m ad e th e f orce s t ro ng er and s h o u l d put t o res t a v ery unfai r s t ereo t y p e O N P OINT Vermont Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Kehaya provides security from a rooftop at a vehicle patrol base in Afghanistan last year. 32 | Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes Na tional Guard
A decade of war didn't break the National Guard. It made the force stronger and should put to rest a very unfair stereotype
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE halls of the wonderful Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., tucked between Abe Lincoln's hat and Archie Bunker's chair, should be displayed an inadequately equipped, indifferently trained and insufficiently motivated National Guardsman. The identifying label could read, "Weekend Warrior, circa 2001."
A museum is the only place one should find the stereotypical citizen-soldier from a decade ago and before, the one commonly identified by that outdated sobriquet.
Weekend warrior. Man, that is so pre-9/11.
For almost 10 years, National Guardsmen have been at war overseas, fighting alongside their active-component brethren. And dying there, too.
During that time, the force has undergone a metamorphosis that is hardly summed up simply by the well-worn phrase about being an operational force and no longer a strategic reserve.
That's too broad, too vague.
Col. Frank McGinn puts it more succinctly. The Massachusetts Army Guardsman for 30 years and homicide detective with the Massachusetts State Police recalls a time long before the war on terrorism.
"Annual training wasn't even training. It was summer camp," he says. "The first thing loaded on the truck was the beer."
Of course, that was not every year and not for everybody. But McGinn, who is a member of the NGAUS board of directors, is not the only one who remembers a less than focused attitude toward annual training.
Command Sgt. Major Scott Haworth, the top enlisted soldier in the Kansas Guard, joined in 1979 and recalls when the highlight of drill weekend was to "pop open the cooler at 4 o'clock."
Sgt. Major Abby West of the Wash ington Army National Guard remembers, "We would go out and train. But it was lackadaisical in many regards."
There was a reason for that. Other than a peacekeeping effort here and there and a surprise role in Operation Desert Storm, most of the Guard, especially the Army Guard, had little chance of going anywhere for anything other than training.
Retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the former director of the Army Guard, says going to war was not something Guardsmen truly expected.
"They thought maybe they'd go once in their lifetime," he says. "But they didn't know."
These people are talking about a National Guard foreign to about half of today's force–the soldiers and airmen who joined after America first went to Afghanistan to battle al-Qaida and its Taliban enablers.
They have joined knowing a combat tour was in their future and the idea of treating drill weekend like a tailgate party has gone out the window. It's now life or death.
"They know they have to learn those skills to survive," says McGinn.
"You recognize it's not getting together just so you can talk to somebody," says Col. Anthony Mohatt, a brigade commander in the Kansas Guard and a special agent for the Department of Agriculture's inspector general's office.
"Today, our men and women come with a new attitude," says Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the Delaware adjutant general and NGAUS chairman of the board.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the Kansas adjutant general, says, "They want to be decisively engaged. They want to be challenged. Or they don't want to be there."
As amazing as the transformation has been, however, even more amazing is the speed with which it happened. This certainly is no longer your father's National Guard, but even your older brother wouldn't recognize it.
Here's what retired Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau from April 2003 to November 2008, says about the Guard prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
"They were struggling to establish the Guard as a relevant force," he says. "Now advance to today. The question of relevance never comes up because in the last decade, we have been agile enough, adaptable enough and effective enough to become the nation's essential military force.
"Our biggest . . . detractors cannot seriously question our relevance." For Vaughn, the change is simple.
"The primary thing is readiness– true combat readiness," he says.
So, what happened? How did the Guard go from what it was to what it is? How was the "weekend warrior" put on the shelf?
"Initially, we were unprepared for this," admits Vavala.
Not only were many troops less than serious about their roles, many Army Guard units were under strength by Army design. It's hard to train for war when you are not allowed to have all the soldiers you need to go to war.
Vaughn says, "Our authorized strength didn't match what our force structure was."
The Guard also was not a priority in the Army budget. Tiered-resourcing based on deployment priority was the name of the game and most Guard units were forced to the back of the line when dollars were provided for equipment and training.
Tafanelli says, "Prior to 9/11, it was nothing to have to calculate how much fuel you could burn at annual training."
But along about 2005, Vaughn says, people realized there was to be no quick end to the two wars. To maintain a volunteer fighting force for the long haul, the Guard would have to be involved up to its elbows.
He says Army leadership understood that the Guard could no longer be inadequately manned and poorly equipped, not if it was to share the battlefield with the rest of the force.
"When you mobilize a Guard unit, you want to know they have the same capability as an active unit," Vaughn says.
To get to that, the Guard had to fill its ranks, equip its units and reorganize its structure so the Guard looked like its bigger brother.
Vaughn didn't want the familiar recruiting campaign touting college benefits and the like. There was a specific mission in front of the Guard that required a specific type of recruit.
He wanted warriors.
"That's what we were trying to do–change the attitude," Vaughn says. "And we changed it right quick."
One of the most prominent indications of that philosophical change was a music video by the band 3 Doors Down performing an original song, Citizen Soldier. Shown in movie theaters, it promised recruits a meaningful and exciting time in uniform. Nothing was sugar-coated.
THE MUSIC VIDEO was only one of several innovative recruiting efforts that reversed a slide in actual personnel end-strength that had bottomed out barely above 330,000, in 2004. Vaughn soon had 366,000 soldiers.
He credits Col. Mike Jones, who was then the organization's chief of the strength maintenance division, for changing how young people viewed the Army Guard brand.
The force filled with motivated troops, lowering the average age of the Army Guard soldier. It had been 32 in 2001 and is now at 30.
With these new recruits, Vaughn says, readiness "skyrocketed."
This larger force with a new attitude required a new configuration. Its division-based structure was at odds with the Army's brigade concept. If the two were going to fight together, they had to resemble each other.
Blum says, "We worked very closely–Clyde Vaughn, [Gen.] Pete Schoomaker [the Army chief of staff] and I–restructuring the Guard to mirror the Army so that we could be interchangeable parts."
They wanted to have the same manning, the same equipment and the same look–a real Total Army.
The Army Guard would complete its reorganization with 28 brigade combat teams in its structure, including 20 infantry, seven armored and one Stryker.
"It was very difficult for the TAGs," Blum says, because armories were shuttered, people had to be retrained and missions changed.
"It's gut-wrenching," he says. "But it was more than worth the pain. In the last seven or eight years, you can see the payoff because virtually every one of those brigades has pulled a combat tour. And that would never have happened had we not restructured."
Plus, he says, there was another aspect to the restructuring.
"Had we not done that, we could not have justified equipping the force the way we did, which is a dramatic improvement from where we were in 2000," Blum says.
Equipping the Guard has been one of the great success stories and one that boggles the minds of longtime Guardsmen.
Mohatt remembers training with old M-16s, a generation or two behind the active Army. Now he trains with the newest version of that standard weapon.
Regarding wheeled vehicles, Tafanelli recalls when "we had the gas burners, the multifuelers. We had this whole array of vehicles that was logistically hard to maintain."
That's no longer the case. He enlisted in 1980 and says, "From an equipment standpoint, we're the best we've been in that 30 years."
That's because of the famous "tidal wave" of equipment that has not yet reached its end. More than $36 billion of equipment is to reach the Army Guard in the span of a few years.
HAWORTH POINTS OUT that some new equipment is put in the Guard at the same time it reaches the active component. That's certainly a new concept.
"It makes us feel pretty good," he says.
While change has been most evident in the Army Guard, the Air Guard has not been standing pat. Col. Mark Sheehan, the force's deputy director for air, space and information operations, said the last decade has been about changing missions.
"There have been 188 unit conversions since 9/11," he says, and another 74 are ongoing.
Some have meant changing from one aircraft to another. Others have meant leaving the flying business all together.
"That is quite an evolution," he says.
In addition, he says, the Air Guard has gone to war and continued to perform the tasks required by the Air Force at home, from transport to aerial refueling to fighter support and more.
Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, (Conversation, page 42) the Air Guard director, correctly points out that his force has actually been at war for two decades. Like the active-component Air Force, the Air Guard continued to contribute to operational missions after the first Persian Gulf War, flying missions in support of operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch over Iraq.
"The resiliency of our Air National Guard airmen continues to be one of our strong points," he says. "We continue to volunteer at unprecedented rates, and one would think the Air National Guard . . . would buckle under the strain of continued operations and deployments, but we've not."
But if you want to examine the Guard's evolution since the war on terrorism began, don't look only at the combat mission of the force or its appearance. With men and women constantly going to war, the Guard has had to generate the types of programs to provide for them when they return.
For example, the idea of family support was pretty much an afterthought in the old Guard.
"Family support in the 80s when I was a company commander was on paper," says McGinn. "You had to have a family support group to pass inspection."
Asked about family support early in his career, Mohatt says, "We had summer picnics and showed the wives and the kids a good time."
The point was, he says, to keep them involved enough so they would support the Guardsman's re-enlistment. Now, family support is a huge program in both the Army and Air Guard.
Col. Greg Bliss, the chief of the soldier and family support division at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., says the force has opened 380 family assistance centers nationwide in the past decade.
And, too, the Guard has recognized the unique requirements of someone who has experienced war on the frontlines. Bliss says the Guard has kept an eye on programs developed in the states and territories for possible nationwide efforts.
THE STATES HAVE also been eager to share what they develop and think has merit beyond their borders.
"We work very closely with the states," Bliss says.
That "teaming of resources" has helped develop programs on the fly to deal with suicidal Guardsmen, those with other troubling mental health issues and those who are having domestic problems.
Col. (Dr.) John Grote, the Army Guard surgeon, says, "We have done a much better job of drilling down and identifying what issues our soldiers have."
So, the Guard has evolved in many ways to meet its obligation to the nation since 9/11. Ten years of war has forced the creation of a force hardly recognizable to anyone who dozed off in 2001 and suddenly awoke today.
That's why the weekend warrior has become a museum piece, a relic of the past. That Guardsman exists no longer, and no one mourns his passing.
We should be careful, however, not to disparage him too much. It was never a description embraced by the Guard, but one used by uninformed outsiders talking about something they didn't understand.
And, most importantly, it was never true.
Blum says the Guard today is the best it's ever been, but he's quick to add, "Not that the people are better." Guardsmen have always had "that patriotic heart beating in them," he says, and a sense of selfless duty to community, state and nation.
Today's Guardsmen have the advantage of being in uniform at a time when the nation is relying on them more than ever both at home and abroad. It is to their never-ending credit that they have performed well enough to have earned all that has come their way.
"We're able to come to the table and be taken seriously," says West. "If we weren't, would we still be sent on deployments?"
Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, (Conversation, page 36) the acting director of the Army Guard, says 60 percent of his force now wears the right shoulder combat patch. The percentage is even higher among NCOs and officers.
In 2001, only 5,856 Guardsmen had deployment experience.
But, too, Carpenter says, the experience shows itself at home when Guardsmen are called to fight floods, wildfires and other disasters.
"The experience that these soldiers have in terms of command-and-control and accomplishing the mission that they learned downrange . . . they apply that experience to the homeland," he says.
Haworth says of the combat-tested force, "It has its challenges, but it's great that we have the experienced leaders that we have at such a young age."
The Guard's performance during a decade of war has already paid dividends, Vavala says.
"We would have never gotten a four-star chief of the bureau, we know that," he says.
Tafanelli sums up the decade of war this way: "What we've learned in the last 10 years is, when given the resources and the opportunity, the National Guard can perform its missions as well as anybody else. It's a credibility. We always knew we could do it. We trained to do it. Now we've gone out and proved that we could do it."
Ron Jensen can be reached at (202) 408- 5885 or email@example.com.
"[Today's Guardsmen] want to be decisively engaged. They want to be challenged. Or they don't want to be there."
–Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli
The Adjutant General, Kansas
"One would think the Air National Guard . . . would buckle under the strain of continued operations and deployments, but we've not."
–Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III
Director of the Air National Guard
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Citizen+Warrior/807456/78403/article.html.