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For These Troops, Time Is One Tough Foe…Guardsmen, Reservists Bear Growing Share Of America's Death Toll In Iraq

For These Troops, Time Is One Tough Foe



November 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Star-Ledger. All rights reserved.

CAMP ROBINSON, Ark. -- Leaning on a Humvee tailgate with his eyes focused on a stack of papers, Capt. Jody Callahan seems oblivious to gunfire coming from a nearby rifle range.

His troops are firing round after round in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. But on this Sunday morning, the 33-year-old Arkansas Army National Guard company commander's mind is on the half-dozen soldiers who did not show up for drill.

He's writing Article 15s for the no-shows, a reprimand that can cost a soldier his rank, pay and, in many states, mean a trip to jail.

Callahan might have some of the missing soldiers arrested. He's done it before.

"I've had people pulled out of bed, out of classrooms and out of the Burger King," he said. "I don't care. If you don't show up for drill, I'll have you arrested.

"That sounds harsh. But time in the National Guard is equivalent to gold," he said. "I cannot have enough time. It's precious."

Time is an enemy of the National Guard. Its part-time troops train 39 days a year but are expected to know their military jobs and form units as cohesive as their active-duty counterparts, who train 200 days a year or more.

"You can't compress what the active Army does in a year into 12 weekends," said Capt. John Tumino, a company commander with the 50th Main Support Battalion, a New Jersey Army National Guard unit based in Teaneck.

Time is one of the biggest reasons why one in four National Guardsmen is untrained in the military job he or she holds. It's the reason why more than 20 percent of its leaders have not completed the required military education the Army says they need.

"In peace time, we are in constant competition with a soldier's family and civilian job," said Col. Frank Grass, chief of the Army National Guard's operations division in Arlington, Va.

The National Guard's goal is to have 85 percent of its soldiers trained in their military jobs. But numbers released by the National Guard Bureau, which oversees the nearly 350,000-member force spread over every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, show the mark has been missed.

Only Puerto Rico attains the goal. About 86 percent of the roughly 8,400 National Guardsmen there are trained for their current job.

Colorado falls shortest of the goal with just more than 68 percent of its roughly 3,015 troops properly trained.

About 74 percent of New Jersey's 6,100 soldiers are trained in their jobs.

Overall, 76 percent of the National Guard's soldiers are trained for current military jobs, according to figures made available last week.

That number was 7 percentage points higher than the number the National Guard's legal office provided on Oct. 9 under the Freedom of Information Act. Officials were unable to explain the discrepancy.

Troops are considered trained for their military job once they complete advanced individual training for their specialty.

An infantryman, for example, must complete a five-week course at Fort Benning in Georgia. A medic must train for seven weeks at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. These courses, called advanced individual training, follow nine weeks of basic training.

A swell of new recruits helps explain why some soldiers don't have the proper training. According to the records, provided last month, more than 38,000 of the untrained soldiers were classified as "initial entry."

Many of these new soldiers are college students, who in many states, such as Michigan, are allowed to attend basic training during summer break and then attend advanced individual training the following year.

Another group of more than 16,000 soldiers has been trained in one specialty but belong to rarely called combat units the National Guard is converting to more widely demanded support units, such as military police and transportation.

In New Jersey, the roughly 500 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery await training to become military policemen. Unit commanders expect the training will be a crash course of two to four weeks, instead of the normal eight- to 12-week program. The unit has been alerted for possible duty as a military police unit in Iraq next year.


Historically, the demands of National Guard soldiers' civilian lives and a lack of funds flowing from the Pentagon prevented many troops from attending training.

"There's always been a funding issue with the schools," said Capt. Tim McLaughlin, a company commander with the 50th Main Support Battalion in Teaneck. "Not to mention the time constraints."

Master Sgt. Michael Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, said shortages in funding for training have hurt the Guard's readiness and created friction with the Pentagon.

"Over the years, there's been constant finger-pointing with them saying, 'You're not ready, you're not ready,'" he said. "How can you be ready if you don't have the money to train with."

Grass, the operations chief, said the roughly 20 percent increase to the National Guard's budget since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the widespread mobilization of more than 90,000 troops have led to an influx of cash to send soldiers to specialized training.

"Since the war, we've just pumped as much as we could into these classes," Grass said.

Each year, Congress adds money to the National Guard's budget on top of funds recommended by the Pentagon.

Most of the additional money goes toward closing an $11 billion gap between the equipment the National Guard needs and what it has on hand.

While the equipment shortages are staggering - more than 13,000 Humvees and 20,000 digital radios - a review of Department of Defense records shows there are critical shortages in training equipment for the National Guard as well.

According to the 2004 National Guard and Reserve Equipment Report, which is sent to Congress each year, the Guard is without 678 of the 684 computerized tank computer simulators it says it needs and has only two of the 644 mechanized infantry simulators it requires.

Although National Guard troops do have access to older computer simulators, many troops say most of the training equipment is antiquated.


On a recent Saturday, soldiers from Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 113th Infantry gathered in the darkened basement of the Jersey City armory to practice rifle and machine gun marksmanship with a Firearms Training Systems simulator.

Targets appear on the screen, which mimics a rifle range. There is an element of realism, the weapons recoil as if really firing, thanks to hoses that deliver a blast of carbon dioxide with each pull of the trigger.

But the unit does not have the software for all combat scenarios, including missions where enemy troops shoot back. The simulator is also prone to glitches because it is powered by an old 486 microprocessor, which was introduced in 1989.

Spc. Geoff Badgley, 31, a 10-year National Guard veteran, says training with the old gear is frustrating.

"I joined the infantry because I love it," he said. "And if you want to deploy me, deploy me. But give me the money to train."

For most National Guard units, access to computer simulators is crucial because the time they spend in combat vehicles and on firing ranges is limited.

At war, members of New Jersey's 5th Squadron of the 117th Cavalry would patrol a battlefield in tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.

But the unit's tank crews spend an average of six drill weekends a year in the tanks. They are around tanks full time only during the unit's two-week annual training at Fort Drum, N.Y.

"Annual training is the only real good training you get," said Sgt. Ron Oliver, 31, of Jersey City. "You spend all your time on the tank and maybe after five or six days, it all comes back to you."


Although tank commanders and gunners can use simulators to brush up on their skills, the unit does not have unlimited access to a simulator to train another important crew member, the driver.

For driver training, nothing beats time in a tank, said Cpl. Justin Borque, 26, a unit member from Parsippany.

"Our drivers never get a chance to drive the vehicle," he said. "They really should do it every month, but it just can't happen every month."

Soldiers from another New Jersey unit, Charlie Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 102nd Armor, try to work around the problem. On weekends they are stuck at their armory in Newton with no prospect of getting near a tank. They practice tank maneuvers in their cars in a nearby shopping center parking lot.

Capt. Edward Dowgin, the 26-year-old company commander, said the idea came to his soldiers last year as they prepared for their annual training, where they would be evaluated on how well they moved as platoons of four tanks.

During the modified training sessions, solders drive in groups of four as if they were crossing a battlefield in tanks and a fifth soldier with a megaphone follows behind and shouts orders to change formation - information that would be transmitted by radio had they actually been in tanks.

"We just have to use what we have," Dowgin said. "And on that day, we didn't have tanks. So we used our cars."

He has heard of other National Guard tank troops in other states doing much the same thing, with only a slight variation. "I've heard of guys doing it with golf carts," he said.

Although some military analysts have suggested making homeland defense the Army National Guard's primary mission, the National Guard Bureau insists its primary mission is to be a reserve of the U.S. Army.

Col. Peter Aylward, deputy director of Homeland Defense for the National Guard Bureau, said that even though homeland defense responsibilities mushroomed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, training for war overseas still makes sense.

"The biggest bang for the buck is to train for the away game," he said.

During the past 12 months, more than 96,000 National Guard troops have been called to active duty and nearly 60 percent went overseas.

Aylward said the Guard's training for homeland defense and overseas conflict must reflect the fact that the U.S. Army's greatest needs are for mobile forces capable of urban combat.

It is an unfamiliar role for the National Guard.

Much of its strength still lies in heavy mechanized units, a leftover Cold War philosophy under which Pentagon war planners envisioned World War III beginning with Soviet troops flowing into Western Europe through the Fulda Gap.

"The Army was geared toward the Fulda Gap fight. Tanks on tanks," he said. "There's a fundamental shift that's taken place."

And now many National Guard units are reconsidering how they spend precious training time.

Next summer, the 50th Main Support Battalion will spend much of its annual training practicing how to man checkpoints and secure buildings. Annual training normally would have been devoted to practicing the military specialties of a unit that includes truck drivers, water purification specialists, mechanics and medics.

But the commander, Lt. Col. Roch Switlik, said he's been directed to prepare troops for new missions.

"It's new stuff for a lot of the soldiers," he said.

But some of the training, especially guard duty, is familiar to the soldiers of the 50th Main Support Battalion, most of whom were called to duty in the weeks after the terrorist attacks to guard airports, bridges and tunnels. More than 150 of Switlik's soldiers remain on active duty, guarding Picatinny Arsenal, Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth.

About the same number of troops from the cavalry unit are there now and will extend a second consecutive year of active duty, serving as the security forces at McGuire Air Force Base and for the Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing near Atlantic City.

And while those part-time troops are now soldiers all day, every day, they struggle to keep their combat skills sharp.

Joe McNamara, a first lieutenant with the unit, said his soldiers get little time to train in tanks and armored personnel carriers.

"We maintain our core competencies (such as marksmanship), but all the extras are hard to keep up with," he said. "It's a 14-hour day."

There are other hurdles the National Guard must clear.

To get the most out of each weekend drill, all units rely on the roughly 44,000 full-time soldiers in the National Guard. These troops help maintain equipment and assist commanders in preparation for weekend drills and annual training.

And the National Guard Association, an organization that lobbies Congress on behalf of the Guard, says there are not enough full-timers to go around. The association says the National Guard is getting by with 58 percent of the full-time troops required.

"Manning at 58 percent takes its toll on readiness," the association wrote in its 2004 report to Congress. "It is virtually impossible to maintain readiness requirements with such limited support."

Shortages in full-time support mean all National Guard officers end up working at least a few unpaid days each month getting ready for their drills.

Maj. Paul Tavarone juggles his duties as the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of the 102nd Armor with his civilian job as a science teacher at West Orange High School.

In preparation for the unit's October drill, he said, he spent several hours each day in the week before his soldiers went to rifle training at Fort Dix making sure they had enough bullets, food and transportation.

"We have to do planning for training," Tavarone said. "It's not just show up and somebody is taking care of us."

He said there's no alternative.

"If you just forget about it and show up on drill weekend, you're not going to accomplish anything," he said.

Callahan, the company commander with the infantry unit in Arkansas, shares Tavarone's viewpoint.

"Being an officer in the Guard is like having a second job," said Callahan, who works for the federal government in civilian life. "But you have to put everything you have into training your soldiers. The worst thing you can do is bring them to drill and have them holding up the armory's walls."

Training for Callahan's unit, the 39th Infantry Brigade, has taken on special urgency in recent months. The 3,000-man unit, which is part of one of the National Guard's 15 "enhanced" combat brigades, is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the spring. In its status as an enhanced brigade, the unit differs from most of its National Guard counterparts in that it has much of the same equipment used by the active Army.

In Iraq, the brigade will report to the 1st Cavalry Division but will be responsible for its own sector of Baghdad, the first National Guard brigade entrusted with such a high-profile mission in Iraq.

Preparing for the dangers ahead has preoccupied Callahan for months.

"Life-and-death stuff, man," he said. "The old persona of the Guard, barbecuing and drinking beer on weekend drill, that's not reality anymore."

Guardsmen, Reservists Bear Growing Share Of America's Death Toll In Iraq



January 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Detroit Free Press. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Citizen soldiers of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve are suffering an increasing share of American military deaths in Iraq, according to Pentagon statistics.

Of the 39 deaths in December for which the Pentagon has released the victim's name, 10 -- or about 26 percent -- were citizen soldiers, according to an Associated Press review of Pentagon reports. That is up from 14 percent in November, the deadliest month of the war with 81 American deaths.

The most recent were Staff Sgt. Michael J. Sutter, 28, a National Guard member based in Grayling, Mich., and Spc. Michael G. Mihalakis, 18, a guardsman based in Fairfield, Calif. Both died Dec. 26. There actually were 40 reported deaths in December, but one's name has not been released.

Overall, since the start of hostilities last March, 14 percent of all U.S. military deaths have been members of the Army Guard or Reserve. The Army says it has had 68 reservists killed so far, compared with nine among the Marines, two in the Navy and one in the Air Force.

It's too early to know whether December's proportional increase in deaths among citizen soldiers was the start of a trend, but some analysts say the jump is troublesome, even if it proves temporary.

"It's one more strain on the reserve" component of the military, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, a private think tank. "We are living a gamble to keep the reserve component intact" at a time when reservists are coping with the double worries of being called to active duty for long periods and facing grave dangers in Iraq.

The nation's citizen soldiers play a role in every major military operation because they offer skills and resources that are not available in sufficient numbers in the active-duty force. Military police, linguists and civil affairs specialists are called upon frequently, for example.

But reservists in Iraq also are in direct combat roles, and their presence there is about to expand.

Of the approximately 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, about a fourth are reservists. When the force rotates out this winter and spring, to be replaced by a slightly smaller contingent, the proportion of reservists will about double -- to nearly 40 percent of the force.

The fresh force will include three National Guard combat infantry brigades -- one each from North Carolina, Arkansas and Washington state. O'Hanlon said that although he believes the Guard and Reserve are performing well in Iraq, the use of the three infantry brigades is likely to spark debate -- once they begin taking casualties -- about the adequacy of their training.

The AP review of Pentagon reports of U.S. military deaths also shows that nearly two-thirds of the 478 who have died in Iraq since the war began on March 20 were in their 20s.

The youngest was 18 -- in all, seven soldiers aged 18 have died so far. The oldest was 55-year-old Army Sgt. Floyd G. Knighten, Jr., of Olla, La., who died of non-combat causes on Aug. 9 while in a convoy headed from Iraq to Kuwait. He was a member of the Army National Guard based at Fort Polk, La.

The loss of lives weighs on the minds of U.S. commanders, but Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who commands the 1st Armored Division that is responsible for securing the Baghdad area, told a news conference Wednesday that he has no doubt his troops believe the sacrifices are worthwhile.

"I've lost soldiers and there's nothing more important to me than my soldiers," Dempsey said. "But they believe in the mission we're doing. And so that makes it easy for me to sleep at night -- not easy: It makes it possible for me to sleep at night."

Pentagon records of the hometowns of those who have died in Iraq show that every state has lost at least one troop. Montana lost its first and only, thus far, on Dec. 22. California, the nation's most populous state, has lost the most, with 52, followed by Texas with 41.

Several states have lost proportionally more than their share, including Texas, which has 7.4 percent of the nation's population but has taken 8.6 percent of all deaths so far in Iraq. Others that have lost more than their share include Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Wyoming, the smallest state by population, has lost four individuals, which as a percentage of all U.S. losses in Iraq (0.8 percent) is four times more than Wyoming's share of the U.S. population (0.2 percent).

In addition to the deaths, the U.S. military has reported 2,379 wounded in action in Iraq and another 372 wounded in other circumstances such as accidents.

The United States is not alone in taking casualties. Britain's military has reported 52 deaths in Iraq; Italy, 17; Spain, eight; Bulgaria, five; Thailand, two; and Denmark, Ukraine and Poland have reported one each.

Soldiers killed in Iraq by state

The Pentagon says 478 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began March 20. Figures add up to 477 because one soldier's identity, including home state, has not yet been announced because relatives have not yet been notified. Here's a breakdown by state:

State Deaths Ala. 12 Alaska 1 Am. Samoa 2 Ariz. 11 Ark. 3 Calif. 52 Colo. 8 Conn. 5 Del. 3 D.C. 2 Fla. 14 Ga. 12 Hawaii 1 Idaho 3 Ill. 21 Ind. 15 Iowa 9 Kan. 5 Ky. 4 La. 4 Maine 2 Md. 4 Mass. 8 Mich. 20 Minn. 3 Miss. 10 Mo. 11 Mont. 1 Neb. 4 Nev. 4 N.H. 1 N.J. 9 N.M. 1 N.Y. 21 N.C. 13 N.D. 3 Ohio 15 Okla. 7 Ore. 8 Pa. 27 Puerto Rico 7 R.I. 3 S.C. 11 S.D. 4 Tenn. 11 Texas 41 Utah 4 Vt. 4 Va. 12 Wash. 7 W.Va. 1 Wis. 9 Wyo. 4

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