State Guard Units Filling Expanded Mission
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
The National Guard is not a part-time service for "weekend warriors" anymore, but an integral part of U.S. military missions worldwide. Filling jobs ranging from chaplains to postal workers, pilots to infantry troops, state National Guard members are on duty in the United States and 48 other countries, augmenting the nation's active duty force or dealing with the latest natural disasters.
There was a time when Capt. Charles "Chuck" Mussi of Annapolis, Md., knew what it meant to be a "weekend warrior" in the National Guard. But oh, how things have changed.
Today Mussi, a full-time public affairs officer at the Pentagon's National Guard Bureau, belongs to a military force that trains and mobilizes not only on weekends, but all year round.
"I understood the term 'weekend warrior' because I actually lived it. It doesn't mean the same thing at all now. The guard is not just a weekend service anymore," says Mussi. who used to race from his work for a publishing firm in Annapolis to Winchester, Va., for guard meetings.
Filling jobs ranging from chaplains to postal workers, pilots to infantry troops, state National Guard members are on duty in the United States and 48 other countries.
They can be found, like Mussi, working day-to-day with regular service personnel, building flood walls out of sandbags in West Virginia, or helping with security arrangements for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
National Guard members also turn up regularly in the Persian Gulf region where they help to keep Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in check. They also serve in other far-off places, such as Iceland or the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. And lately, they've begun to play a larger role in helping the Air Force monitor orbiting satellites from U.S. Space Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs.
On any given day, thousands of National Guardsmen are deployed overseas. On July 15, for example, the Pentagon listed some 7,500 guard members deployed abroad and a whopping 23,247 on training or emergency missions within U.S. borders.
"They are critical to supporting national security requirements both at home and abroad," says Kathleen Gereski, chief of external affairs for the Pentagon's National Guard Bureau in Washington. "The army requires and depends on the National Guard to be a part of its missions all over the world."
National Guard forces - ground and air units combined - are nearly a half million strong, made up of men and women from all 50 states and all walks of life. Most still train only a few weeks out of the year, leading what Mussi calls "a dual life" as both citizen and soldier. But they often spend up to six months or longer away from their civilian jobs and families on active duty mobilizations at home and abroad.
An Iowa aviation combat unit, the 132nd Fighter Wing based in Des Moines, just returned in July from a month-long tour of duty in Kuwait, where they flew F-16 air patrols over the southern no-fly zone of Iraq.
And elements of the 29th Infantry Division from Virginia, and Maryland, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, are preparing for an extended deployment this September to Bosnia where they will join NATO peacekeeping forces.
The division's scheduled deployment will mark an important milestone. It will be the first time the 29th has been abroad since World War II when it was the first of the allied divisions to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Twenty-one National Guardsmen from the tiny Virginia town of Bedford died that day in the bloody fighting. They were recently honored by President Bush, along with other World War II veterans, at the unveiling of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
Nineteen of the nation's presidents have been members of the guard, including President George W. Bush and all four Mt. Rushmore presidents - Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
"There was a time when you might go your whole career and never deploy. But (the Pentagon) needs the National Guard to carry out many of its missions today. It's become an integral part of today's active deployment," says Mussi, who was a platoon leader in the first guard combat arms unit (Company C, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Division) to be sent to Bosnia in 1997.
Today, the guard accounts for a fifth of the nation's nearly 2.6 million active duty and reserve military personnel. But unlike the active duty services, who answer only to the one commander-in-chief, the guard takes orders from the president and the governors.
Governors, for example, can call out the guard for help in state emergencies. Thousands of guardsmen are being used right now to fight floods in the east and south, and wildfires in the west. When mobilized by the governor, the state pays the cost of the missions. But if called to active duty by the president, the federal government picks up the tab. This year the guard's budget was $15 billion. Nearly a billion of that came from the states.
John Goheen, communications director for the National Guard Association of the United States, says the guard's dual state-national obligation "is probably one of the best examples of the overlap between states and the federal government.