'9/11 changed everything'
Iowa National Guard prepares for 'enhanced readiness'
Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard addressed community members, members of the media and other military personnel Thursday morning and early afternoon at the Spencer Area Activities Center about the need for increased readiness.
"What is important to note when I came into the National Guard 39 years ago, we were Strategic Reserve," Orr said. "What that meant was, if you were in the National Guard, you served 39 days a year which equates to one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. Here we sit now, we are deploying and have deployed on the cycle of once every five years. Those are predictable deployments that we know about.
He continued, "What we have had to do this year, which is a little bit of an adjustment, is change training standards to increase readiness. We are not part of what is called the Operational Reserve Component which means our Army and our Air Force are so small today that we cannot fulfill our requirements around the country and the world without our reserve components."
Though adjustments have been made recently, Orr traces the shift in the role of the guard and reserve forces back to the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I think since 2001, this has been the new norm for us," Orr said. "For the average citizen, they may not realize this is not your father's or grandfather's National Guard. We have to support our Army and our Air Force because our forces are so small. We have an active Army and Air Force component that is the smallest we have had since World War II. In order to do the requirements it takes the whole team. We do all the same schooling, all the same training and our leaders go to leadership training so there is really no difference (from other branches of the military) other than most of our folks maintain a civilian career and are part-time service members."
The Iowa National Guard currently has 9,000 airmen and soldiers serving at 53 locations in the state. Five hundred National Guard members have been deployed this year though not necessarily overseas.
The Iowa National Guard unit in Spencer has more than 40 soldiers assigned to it. These members may be from other parts of the state while Spencer residents may be serving as members of other units in the state. The Spencer unit is a detachment from the headquarters unit of the 194 field artillery regiment which is a part of the Second Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division. There are 3,500 members who belong to that brigade and the last time the Spencer unit was deployed was 2010-11.
"We don't have any deployments for the units right now," Iowa National Guard Lt. Col. Mike Wunn said. "Essentially, what that means because they are at a higher level of readiness, they would be deployed more quickly. It cuts down on some of the training they would have to do when they are deployed because they are part of the enhanced readiness efforts. These efforts have probably been going on for six months. I think part of it is the brigade the Spencer unit belongs to has done some additional training events that were not previously scheduled. I think the other thing is they have had to adjust some training dates."
Orr emphasized the importance incentivizing young people to join the guard. He said there is currently discussion on the national and state level about offering a tax break to employers who hire members of the guard. He also highlighted the 100 percent tuition assistance program the state offers to those who join the Iowa National Guard on a part-time basis for eight years and the benefit of Tri-Care Reserve Select, a health care program available to members of the guard. In some cases, the program offers more complete coverage than many companies insurance for the employee at lower costs. If companies pay employee's insurance costs, they may benefit if they choose to cover the Tri-Care Reserve Select costs as opposed to their private insurance costs.
"What an opportunity for our young people," Orr said. "When I say seven out of 10 do not qualify for military service either through an education, medical or physical issues, we still have a large population of men and women who can serve," Orr said. "One of the great things about the Iowa National Guard is members come out with leadership skills and a sense of pride. We are still looking for great men and women, but we find them everyday. Even though it is harder now and numbers are down, I still think there is an opportunity for those who want to serve."
Wunn emphasized the Iowa National Guard has three missions. The federal or war mission, the state mission which primarily focuses on disaster relief and the community mission which connects local communities to the military.
"I think recruiting is something we work really hard at," Wunn said. "It is a continuous process because every year we have people retiring and we have to recruit new members. There are a lot of things that can impact that like the economy and unemployment. Looking at the state of Iowa as a whole, we are doing OK in recruiting. We always like to do better, we always like to do more."
Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act, service men and women must provide notice to their employers of impending leave due to service requirements. The employer will then grant the leave as either a leave of absence or a furlough. When the service member returns to work, they must request reinstatement and the employer will then grant reinstatement. The employee is required by law to be reinstated at a position taking into account where they would have been had they never left their position.