- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

The 401st has been called to war. The 401st Civil Affairs Battalion — a unit of the Army Reserve based in Webster, N.Y. — was notified it will mobilize in June for combat duty in Iraq.

The first reaction is pride — that this group of soldiers is prepared for such duty and worthy of this large and important responsibility. Pride that their military professionalism and readiness are such that when the nation needed help, the 401st was on the short list to provide it.

Among the various military units in the Rochester region, the 401st has one of the best reputations and histories. It is a unit whose soldiers have done the important work of training and nation-building in both Iraq and Afghanistan. From the start of the war on terror, the 401st has had a front-row seat for the action.

Time and time again, its soldiers have volunteered or been called to duty in every hot spot of this conflict. That is an honor. It is a great distinction to be trusted with an important duty of this nature.

So pride is the first reaction. But an unexpected anger has built over many recent months as the direction of this worthy and important war has foundered into uncertainty. Iraq is the right war fought the wrong way, and it’s the responsibility of big-name men who work in historic buildings on the banks of the Potomac.

One aspect is the mismanagement of troops and troop strength. One of the early discoveries of this war was that we don’t have enough Army to fight it. When you calculate how many you need for the task, we come up short. The U.S. military simply doesn’t have enough people for the responsibilities entrusted to it.

We have shifted the burden of defending our republic to such a tiny fraction of our population that the load on individual units and servicemembers becomes almost insufferable. With this combat tour for the 401st, some soldiers will spend portions of their third and fourth years in a war zone. Some of these Reservists have already been to Afghanistan and Iraq and are now going back to Iraq again. Not for the six-month tours many active-duty troops see, but for the year-plus rotations that are common place for reserve-component troops. That simply isn’t right.

The total time in combat for some 401st soldiers after this tour will be about the same as that of some of the longest “for the duration” troops of World War II. The difference is that World War II was a war of general mobilization and national survival. Also, World War II troops could earn combat points that would accumulate and earn them a ticket Stateside. Other than handicapping injury, there is no such program for today’s troops.

In Vietnam, a man’s combat duty was done at the end of a year. If he went back to the war, it was because he wanted to do so. Why the warriors of this generation should be called upon to do more than the warriors of earlier generations — who fought larger wars — is not apparent.

Sometimes it seems the sacrifice of reserve-component troops and their families is lost on both the public and the national command structure. There are soldiers missing children’s births and graduations, and other family milestones. And for soldiers deployed repeatedly, the cumulative time away from spouses and children is ruinous of family structure.

Also, most of these Reservists are paid far less on active duty than on their civilian jobs. Consequently, extended and repeated deployments can create large and bankrupting financial burdens.

Reserve-component servicemembers didn’t sign up for this. The reasonable expectation of soldiers when they enlisted or were commissioned was that they would do a weekend a month, two weeks during the summer and be on call in case the nation needed help right now. Soldiers were told that was the organizational planning of the U.S. military. For decades, the purpose of the Guard and Reserve has been to fill the gap and hold things together until the country could mobilize for war.

Unfortunately, it is used today for a completely different purpose. It has, in effect, been grafted onto the active military. The troops of the reserve component are not a bridge to general mobilization but conscripts propping up a military gutted after the Cold War and which no one has the political will to flesh out to a reasonable size.

And this isn’t a matter of some weekend warriors who don’t want to uphold their end of the bargain. Some soldiers of the 401st are hung out to dry on this deployment because the military changed the rules on them.

A recent decision from the Pentagon said future Guard and Reserve mobilizations would be unit-based. But as part of the rule change, the brass decided that prior regulations that limited or delayed redeployments would be suspended. That means soldiers from the 401st — and other Guard and Reserve units— who had already served in a combat zone and received guarantees they would not be called back have seen those guarantees voided.

The military broke its word to these troops. Some 401st soldiers even volunteered for earlier combat tours — their second such tours, in some cases — based on the understanding they would fulfill their obligation and be spared future deployments. The military’s change of the terms will have some citizen soldiers saying good bye to their families for their third year-plus combat deployment. That’s not right.

And it’s the fault of people at the top of the military and government who have mismanaged the force and are putting troops and their families through hell to cover for their mistake.


Commentator and talk show host in Rochester, N.Y. Online at BobLonsberry.com.



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