Paramilitary: October 2, 2003

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The commander of the Army Reserve  is very interested in how the war in Iraq and the long tours of duty for reservists is affecting re-enlistments. The Army National Guard is not sure if they will make their recruiting goal of 65,000 new recruits for this year. In the meantime, reservists questioning the necessity of their deployments to Iraq are branded as traitors for not supporting the country "at war". Some talk show hosts have lumped complaints about Iraq deployments into the category of "overseas" deployments and commenting on Afghanistan and Iraq as if they were interchangeable. A favorite comparison of several of these talk-show hosts is World War II. The comparison, however is way off-base. To start with, very few reservists are questioning any deployments to Afghanistan, where they are quite eager to help hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. As the originators of the 9-11 attacks, the bad guys hiding out in Afghanistan have no shortage of volunteers looking for their scalps. Iraq, however, offers a totally different set of circumstances. 

First, the mission is still not clear, even 6 months after "major combat operations" ended. The neo-cons in the administration have been banging the drum of war for so long that they never got around to planning what to do if they got their wish. There is no unified sense of purpose and apparently little progress toward an end-state (in large part because no one knows what end-state they're looking for.) 

Second, the missions that guardsmen are getting are not those for which they are necessarily trained. Tank battalions are being converted to light infantry for dismounted patrolling. Combat engineers are being asked to put back together the same buildings their active duty brethren blew up on the march to Baghdad.

Third, the media's reporting of daily death and destruction is not making the mission look particularly attractive or useful to the people back home. Mom calls Junior and he tells her he's got orders for Iraq and she doesn't think about the schools that are reopening or the roads being repaired. She thinks about the daily Baghdad ambush. 

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, is the question of "what do these soldiers do when they get home?" The Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act makes it illegal for an employer to fire a reservist who gets deployed. Great. What about the sergeant who is a carpentry-construction contractor, working on projects with general contractor and typically has 2-3 guys that work for him over and over? While he's spent a year dodging bullets in Iraq (or worse, dodging drunks while checking ID cards at the gates of Ft. Benning) his habitual relationship with the general contractor has been usurped by another local construction contractor. His habitual employees are now working for his competition. He didn't fire himself, but he's got very little business to come back to. The shift supervisor from the local fire station won't lose his job as a firefighter, but he might not get his supervisor position back, especially if the guy who replaced him this last year is not a reservist who could get called away again. 

Savage, Limbaugh, and company would have you believe that these men are somehow less patriotic than their grandfathers who fought World War II. Again, the comparison is out of whack. During World War II, the entire country answered to the call of war. The entire nation went on rations of gasoline, sugar, and other products. Industries were shifted en masse to war production. This administration has gone out of their way to insist that the daily lives of Americans should be unaffected by the war. To extend the construction contractor analogy above: during World War II, the reserve sergeant wouldn't lose his business to a competitor, because that competitor was enlisting to fight the same war. 

Reservists commit immense amounts of time and energy, and often personal funds, to their service for the country. Calling them to duty for year-long rotations when the entire nation is not on a war footing is not good for the soldiers, or the continuation of the force. It is especially bad when they are being used in lieu of promised multi-national forces that are in short supply because of a hard-headed administration that sees Iraq as their personal political playground, where the other six billion people of the world are expected to play by neo-con rules or be barred from the game. 

 


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