Paramilitary: September 10, 2003

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Reserve and National Guard infantry units are often maligned in the United States as ill prepared part-time soldiers. In many cases this is true. But there are also many exceptional reserve units, and these are usually recognized and noted for use when there is a war. One recent example was C ("Charlie") Company of the 2/124th Infantry. The unit, which is based in Orlando, Florida, had been rated as the best infantry company in the Florida National Guard 53rd Infantry Brigade, for 2002. Perhaps because of that, the company was called to active service in January 2003, given several weeks of refresher training, and flown to Jordan on February 15th. Charlie company soon found themselves at a Jordanian airbase (called H-5) near the Iraq border. They were met by American Special Forces troops who had already been there several months. Charlie company then trained with the Special Forces for a month, to prove they had the right stuff. 

H-5's population quickly grew to some 6,000 troops, including pilots and ground crews for helicopters from SOCOMs 160th Aviation Regiment and an U.S. Air Force detachment, including several A-10 warplanes. There were also British and Australian commandoes and people from CIA, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and NSA (National Security Agency). Jordan declared that foreign troops were not in the country. Jordan had backed Iraq during the 1991, and suffered greatly as a result. They were not going to make the same mistake twice, but they weren't going to antagonize Saddam's many fans in the Arab world by admitting they were allowing non-Moslem troops to operate against Iraq from bases in Jordan.

It quickly became apparent that Charlie Company was there to provide backup for the commando operations, and to guard base areas to be captured inside Iraq. And before the war officially began, Charlie Company rolled into Iraq in the middle of the night, along with Special Forces A Teams, commandos and assorted groups who preferred to remain unidentified. Working, usually at night, with aircraft, helicopters, satellites and UAVs overhead, the troops scoured western Iraq for missile launchers. On April 5th, Charlie Company came into possession of an Iraqi airbase, recently captured by U.S. Army Rangers, and turned it into a commando base. Called "H-1", the base was also a holding area for prisoners. Some of these were Iraqi, but many were not. Apparently these were al Qaeda. Charlie Company stood guard while the prisoners were questioned, and then flown to Saudi Arabia and, for some of the prisoners, Guantanamo, Cuba. Special Forces and commandos drove, or flew, in and out of H-1 as they eliminated all resistance in the desert that comprised the western third of Iraq. This operation was largely unknown, until foreign journalists, driving from Baghdad to Jordan in April, found that they had to get past Australian commandos manning roadblocks on the main highway. By May 5th, H-1 was closed and Charlie Company moved back to H-5 in Jordan, picked up their gear and were sent to Baghdad, where they provide security for key government buildings.

The Special Forces were initially dubious about getting support from a National Guard unit, but they quickly became believers. Charlie Company is typical of National Guard units over the last two centuries. Exceptional units like this develop when they get a core group of good officers and NCOs. The commander of Charlie Company, for example, served in the 82nd Airborne Division. Many other senior members of the company have experience in elite units. Moreover, the army has three National Guard Special Forces groups, and detachments from those have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

But the National Guard does have a serious problem in that there are many units which are not nearly as effective as Charlie Company. Unlike the active duty troops, the individual states have a lot of control over quality control in the units of their state National Guard. The Department of Defense cannot lean on laggard National Guard units too hard, lest their be some political backlash from state officials, and members of that state's congressional delegation. But the Department of Defense has found a way to identify the exceptional units, and use them when they are needed. 

 


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