Wednesday, April 2, 2003

The National Guard was once thought of as weekend warriors, but is now seeing its largest deployment since the Korean War with nearly one-quarter of its troops serving overseas.

In addition to new deployments to Iraq, nearly 100,000 Guard members are serving in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Sinai Peninsula and Panama.

“They’re scattered all over the place,” said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States. “They are not sleeping at home any more. They have left their jobs and their families to go around the world on active duty.”

That leaves more than 300,000 to guard the home front, and 40,000 have already been alerted that they may soon mobilize, but most states have plenty of forces available for homeland security, Mr. Goheen said.

Though the war against terrorism has caused relatively few casualties in total, the two Guardsmen who have died in it were killed under high-profile circumstances.

Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho, was the first casualty of the National Guard and died on March 22. He was killed, reportedly by an American Muslim soldier who is said to have thrown a grenade into his tent at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait. Maj. Stone was assigned to the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron and was serving as an air-liaison officer with ground commanders.

On Saturday, 24-year-old Staff Sgt. Jacob L. Frazier of St. Charles, Ill., who was assigned to the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan.

As many as 1 million Guard members and reservists can now be called to serve two years under an order President Bush signed just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, Mr. Goheen said the Defense Department wants to avoid long periods of service overseas.

As of March 26, according to the Pentagon, nearly 217,000 Guard members and reservists have been activated to serve at home and abroad: more than 150,000 Army National Guard and Army Reserve members, 33,000 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members, nearly 10,000 naval reservists, 20,000 Marine Corps reservists and 4,000 Coast Guard reservists.

A Defense Department spokesman said deployment is in a “fluid process” and could not give the total number of Guard members and reservists deployed overseas.

In addition to overseas duties, 4,000 of New York’s 17,000 Guard members and 7,000 militia are helping to guard bridges, tunnels, train stations, subways, international airports, nuclear-power facilities and the Canadian border, spokesman Scott Sandman said.

In California, the National Guard is on its second rotation since the terrorist attacks guarding such high-profile landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge and international airports, Capt. Denise Varner said.

“Their attitudes are still so wonderful, they are so patriotic and believe [in] what they are doing and not blinking an eye,” Capt. Varner said.

When Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terrorist alert from elevated (yellow) to high (orange) on March 17, he urged governors to call in the Guard for extra protection.

Ordinarily, governors call up the Guard for their states to handle disasters or emergencies, and Mr. Ridge said he wishes to respect that custom.

At least 13 governors have declined to call up their state’s Guard units.

Democratic Washington Gov. Gary Locke has been critical of the administration for not giving his state nearly a billion dollars he says is needed to fund homeland-security measures, but said funding is not the reason he declined to deploy troops for added protection.

“I made it very clear we will spend the money and whatever is needed to take care of security needs here at home,” Mr. Locke said yesterday.

“I’m not reluctant to deploy and cover the costs of everything on a case by case basis, but given the classified information from the Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies … there were no specific targets of people, places or installations in Washington.”

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