Equity needed in Guard deployments

Equity needed in Guard deployments by the Plain Talk Forgive us for being a bit giddy.

It was a somber day, more than a year ago, when it was announced at a Vermillion City Council meeting that the National Guard Armory would temporarily be off limits to the public.

Members of Company B, 109th Medical Battalion of Vermillion, had to make preparations to ship out.

The unit is made up of 63 doctors, nurses, physician assistants, combat medics, radiological technicians and a variety of medical support personnel.

To say these individuals have been missed is an understatement. Young children have had to live for over a year without the direct emotional support and physical presence of their parents.

Our city hasn�t been quite the same, either. A strong community is made up of talented, ambitious people, and the war on terror took some of the best and brightest individuals from us.

That all changed Thursday. Company B has returned home.

The joy brought about by this homecoming is exceeded only by the great feeling of pride we have for the men and women who put their lives on hold to be of our service.

Company B�s return also reminds us of the great effort that all National Guard units in South Dakota have made in the war on terror.

It is an effort, it turns out, that is lacking in only area � equity.

Each state has a Guard, a force of part-time soldiers who serve at the governor�s command but who otherwise live as civilians. Most often, the Guard is activated during state and local emergencies.

But the president also can activate state Guard troops to serve alongside the active U.S. military and its reserves.

About 25 percent of the nation�s 460,000 Air and Army National Guard troops were deployed for federal duty for service in the Middle East. But some states have contributed up to 75 percent of their Guard troops at one time for the war on terror.

More than half of South Dakota�s National Guard soldiers were activated for federal duty. It is a testament to the state Guard�s abilities, but it is also a detriment to the unit�s ability to respond to state emergencies.

South Dakota is one of nine states where more than half of the Guard was on active duty or on notice to be called up, according to a Feb. 18 report by the National Guard. Others are Arkansas, Maine, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington and West Virginia.

Fortunately, changes are being proposed in response to states� concerns over the high number of Guard members sent overseas in President Bush�s war on terror and are part of a new vision for the organization, said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard Bureau, the federal agency that oversees Guard activities.

The National Guard, whose citizen soldiers have been dispatched for lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is drawing up plans to balance the number of troops from each state during future deployments so no state is left short-handed in an emergency at home.

Under proposed plans, at least half of each state�s Guard troops would be kept from active duty at any one time and major deployments would happen on a more predictable schedule.

While the changes are meant to bring equity to the deployment process, they are also further evidence that joining the Guard is no longer a way to avoid military combat. Nowadays, the U.S. military relies on the Guard for specific tasks crucial to combat missions.

With the end of the Cold War and the advent of a global war on terror, Guard members must be prepared for a wider variety of missions and duties: within three years, 80 percent of Guard members will be combat veterans as well as homeland security veterans.

To meet its goal, the Guard is planning to change the training and makeup of state units to ensure that half of each state�s forces is available at any given time. Under the proposed plans, a quarter of each state�s Guard would train for active duty and another quarter would be deployed. National Guard units in each state also will have a more balanced mix of capabilities.

In the future, the goal will be to send Army National Guard troops for a major deployment of 12 to 18 months only once ever six years. Under the proposal, Air National Guard members could be deployed every 15 months.

Plans call for deployments to be more predictable so that states, employers and families will be able to plan ahead for a Guard member�s active duty, said Reginald Saville, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.

What is not predictable is when the National Guard hopes to complete its rebalancing act. No final date for achieving Blum�s plan has been set.

We urge National Guard officials to make equity a priority as our women and men finally return home.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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