Guardsmen Face 2nd Call To Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Los Angeles Times
January 15, 2007
They say the unprecedented action as part of troop increase would put a burden on their families and careers.
By Rone Tempest, Times Staff Writer
John Hanson, a city building inspector in Northern California, already served one tour in Iraq with his National Guard unit. If called, he said he is prepared to go back: "But I'm not going to lie and say I'm happy about it."
Francis Shaw, a Long Beach medical technician, worries about the toll another deployment would take on his family, his civilian job and his 55-year-old body.
So far, more than 7,000 members of the California National Guard have been deployed for 12- to 18-month tours in Iraq, the first use of the state militia in overseas combat since the Korean War.
Until last week, under National Guard policy, most of these soldiers were exempt from another activation for at least two years.
But faced with the "surge" of forces proposed Wednesday by President Bush as a way out of the Iraq conflict, senior military officials have announced a change in the rules that would let them recall some of these state units to serve an unprecedented second tour.
The National Guard headquarters in Washington has announced that one large state unit already in Iraq, the 1st Brigade Combat Team from Minnesota with 4,000 troops, has been asked to stay an additional four months as part of the proposed increase in forces.
Pentagon officials say that California units, such as the 1st Battalion, 185th Armored Regiment in San Bernardino, which served in Iraq in 2004-05, may be asked to go again under the president's proposal.
Interviewed last week, veterans of the 1-185th were generally resigned to a possible second tour, although they said it would put strains on their families and civilian careers.
For many of these soldiers, the Pentagon proposal represents a dramatic departure from what recruiters told them when they enlisted about the amount of possible active duty they would face.
"If I were 20 years younger and had a better background in the infantry, I wouldn't mind going. But as old as I am and with my family situation, it's going to be difficult," said Shaw, who works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach. Shaw said that when he was in Iraq, the staff at the hospital was trained to cover for him.
Many National Guard soldiers are older than their regular military counterparts. In addition to his tour in Iraq as a team leader outside Baghdad and on the Kuwait border, Shaw also served two tours in the Vietnam War with the Navy. The Huntington Beach resident has three older children from an earlier marriage and a 3-year-old son with his wife, Cindy, a former Navy nurse.
"It would be more disappointing for my wife than it would be for me," said Shaw, who trims his hair military-style and keeps in good physical condition. "There is the possibility of our son losing a father, and the question of how another long tour would affect him."
Like many returning soldiers, Shaw said he suffered from post-traumatic stress after his return from combat, which caused him to seek counseling. "Even now, I get anxious when I hear loud noises or when I'm in the mall or other crowded places," he said. "When somebody slams a door, I jump."
Even the first round of combat was a surprise to many who enlisted in the National Guard before the Sept. 11 attacks. Largely left out of the Vietnam War, when draftees formed the main fighting force, the National Guard had long been used primarily for state emergencies. In California, that meant forest fires, prison riots and floods.
When the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003, the Pentagon had no plans to send National Guard units there. But as regular military forces were exhausted, military leaders turned increasingly to state militias.
At one point in 2005, more than 5,000 members of the California National Guard were in Iraq. Twenty-two California guardsmen have been killed there, the first combat deaths since the Korean War more than 50 years ago.
Because of the former policy limiting active duty for guardsmen to two years in a five-year enlistment, the number of California guardsmen in Iraq had dropped to 747.
Under the changed policy, however, nearly all California guardsmen who previously served in Iraq would be eligible to go again.
Many in the National Guard are former regular military veterans who joined to qualify for full military retirement. A lot of younger enlistees joined for the educational benefits. Few bargained for the extended tours of active duty, including combat.
Sgt. 1st Class John Hanson, 44, worries that the changes will diminish the Guard's traditional role as a responder to state emergencies and affect its ability to recruit.
Hanson, who joined the National Guard in 1998, served in Iraq and then five months later was sent to New Orleans to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said another tour in Iraq would pose yet another hardship for his family.
"I do have another life outside Sgt. Hanson," he said. "I have a 16-year-old son who I'd like to see stay on the right track."
Hanson also worries that civilian careers will be damaged by another tour. His own employer, the small coastal city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, could not have been more understanding, making up the difference in his salary and maintaining his benefits when he was in Iraq.
But he said other soldiers in his unit were not so fortunate. "A lot of guys got grief because of their being in the Guard," Hanson said. "The law says that nobody can be fired, but several guys were laid off. It really hurt those who had their own business."
Curtis Lewis, 44, a history teacher at Poway High School in San Diego County who served in Iraq as a sergeant in the California National Guard, said concern for his students was one of the main reasons he decided not to reenlist when he returned from overseas in 2005.
"I have 160 students for whom I feel a strong obligation," said Lewis, interviewed in his classroom on a recent afternoon when he was lecturing about corruption in 19th century New York City. "I also have four children of my own. When I was gone the first time, it was especially hard on them and my wife.
"War is a young man's game," he said.