Extended service tough on Guardsmen

By Mike Linn: CNJ nedws editor

Just days away from coming home, with bags packed and family reunions planned, members of Charles Day’s Army National Guard unit received the demoralizing news their service in and around Iraq would be extended three months.

The Clovis resident said shortly after the news, several Guardsmen who were trying to stick it out with back injuries decided it was time to see the doctor. About three or four Guardsmen, a small percentage of the force, left due to stress.

In all, his unit went from 126 members to 88 during the three-month extension.

“When my unit got extended morale went straight down,” said Day, a chief warrant officer with the 720th Transportation Company out of Las Vegas, N.M. “It made it hard to make those last three or four months.”

Nationwide, the Army National Guard has seen a decline in military service members joining in the Army National Guard after active duty tours. In fiscal 2004, the Guard expected 7,100 soldiers to sign up after active duty. Instead, only 2,900 did — not even half.

Military officials say the likelihood of deployment for those who join the Army National Guard has increased in the last decade, especially since 9/11.

During wartime, it is increasingly difficult to recruit for the National Guard, said Clovis resident John Montano, who works with Employers Support for Guard and Reserve.

Alan Brockmeier of the Clovis National Guard said recruitment numbers for the Guard runs in peaks and valleys — some years they’re up, some years they’re down.

“I don’t know why it fluctuates — different people have different reasons. It’s not any one thing,” said Brockmeier, who on Nov. 23 finished a 22-month deployment to Cannon Air Force Base.

The National Guard is similar to the Reserves in that soldiers sign up for part-time duty, but Montano said by this summer the majority of troops in Iraq will be in the National Guard or Reserves.

In all, Day’s unit was deployed for about 15 months, or about three months more than a typical deployment, Day said. He said he expects to be called up again in early 2006.
“The shock is this war is a Guard/Reserves war,” Day said. “We have to realize we’re going to be called out a lot more.”

No one in Day’s unit — which transported supplies to soldiers in Baghdad and Mosul — was killed during duty, but Day said snipers and roadside bombs were common.

Since Day was an officer and stationed in Kuwait, away from enemy insurgents, his fear was relegated to the safety of his unit.

He said while many among his unit talked of leaving the Guard after the extension, none actually decided to leave after coming home on July 27.

“They were just frustrated at that time,” he said. “You settle down, but at the time you were so stressed out, you were so upset and you felt you had been lied to and all those natural feelings associated with being extended.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.