DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa National Guard is entering a time of historic transition as overseas demands decline and many service members are set to retire, the head of the guard told lawmakers Wednesday.
Orr says the guard had not faced such a “profound time of change” since the end of World War II.
“As we return home to our armories and communities after more than a decade of war, we face an exceptionally challenging era,” Orr said. “Now is the time that the Iowa National Guard needs to reflect, reassess, re-examine and in certain cases reshape who we are as a military force.”
Orr said the guard will continue to train soldiers and airmen and provide homeland security.
There are about 9,400 National Guard soldiers and airmen in Iowa. Orr said just 100 of that group are currently deployed around the world and Iowa has no units in Iraq or Afghanistan. Over the past decade, the number deployed from Iowa has been as high as 3,500.
“With the exception of only a few deployed personnel, all of our soldiers and airman were home with their families for the holidays this year, for the first time since 2003,” Orr said.
President Barack Obama has said the United States will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014, though a small military presence may remain.
Orr spoke about a federal decision to remove the F-16 fighter jets from the Des Moines Air National Guard Base. He said a new drone operation and several other missions are replacing the jets, providing work for nearly all the employees at the base.
A key focus in the coming years will be helping retiring military transition into civilian life, said Orr, who praised Gov. Terry Branstad’s effort to support veterans, known as Home Base Iowa. Branstad’s plan includes a state tax exemption for military pensions, as well as job training and home ownership opportunities for veterans.
“Iowa can be that place where many of these veterans and their families can live a quality life and reach their dreams,” Orr said.