(photo courtesy of California National Guard)
President Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan has some lawmakers in the nation’s capital worried it will strain the California National Guard. Peter Granitz has more from Washington.
Since 2001, thirteen-hundred California guard soldiers have served in Afghanistan … Twenty-two soldiers and airmen have died in combat since the war on terror began.
The state’s guard members specialize in everything from translating obscure languages to acting as military police. Since those skills are in high demand to fight a counter-insurgency, the status of California’s Guard units has stirred a bit of speculation at the Capitol .
Republican Representative Tom McClintock says pulling too many Guard members out of the state is risky.
“Well obviously to the extent that the National Guard is deployed overseas, it’s not going to be there to meet emergencies.”
McClintock – like lots of people – thinks the Guard is already stretched too thin.
The guard assists at home in endless ways … from fighting fires in Northern California to patrolling the southern border for illegal immigrants.
James Danly directs the DC based Institute for the Study of War. He says the role of the guard has evolved considerably since 2001.
“It is a huge shift. National Guard and reserve elements in the past have been seen as people to be called out during emergencies by their governors or providing assistance during civil insurrection, taking over the positions of active duty when they leave to go on a deployment.”
Danly says the Guard now acts as an ad hoc reserve unit.
Certain elements of the Guard, like Sacramento’s Charlie Company One-Six-Eight relieve enlisted members overseas for up to a year at a time. That company returned home from ten months overseas just before Thanksgiving.
Danly says the Guard today is just as competent as the Army or Air Force.
“We have a large component that is available to use for these endeavors, and when they’re going to be necessary, or, when it’s necessary to employ them, they’re going to be.”
Even though the Guard is constantly sending its members overseas it’s continued to sign UP more people. It’s met every recruitment goal since nine-eleven.
“Sounds like they’re calling in the Marines first, as they do. They’re carrying out the missions as they’re being received, and we have not received any additional calling based on that 30,000 influx.”
That’s Sergeant Jon Guibord – the spokesman for the California National Guard. He says the Guard generally knows a year in advance of deployments. A year long deployment typically has two or three months of training in the States with the rest overseas.
“We allow units adequate time to train to prepare for a mobilization. The more notice the more ready they’re going to be to go over there.”
People in Washington seem to believe the Guard will be called up to Afghanistan.
Democrat Mike Thompson called it ludicrous that the Pentagon has sent Guard members on multiple deployments. He says he expects the California Guard to ship out … but it’s unclear when.
“Don’t forget these people also hold down regular day jobs. Not only are they taken out of that work force for a period of time, which hurts them, but also their colleagues and the organization they work for. The companies that employ these guys have to go out and hire new people, hire replacements.”
McClintock also expects the California Guard to play a role in the escalation
“The strain that has been placed on the National Guard has been immense. And I’m afraid for a number of years we’ve been stripping out gears on that. So yes, I expect the demands on the National Guard are going to increase.”
Whether or not the California National Guard part of the upcoming surge in Afghanistan, Guibord says the California National Guard will continue to send troops overseas. State Guard officials will announce new deployments around February first.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declined requests for interviews for this story. He controls the California National Guard … until the Pentagon sends it overseas. Other governors have fought to keep the Guard back home. .