Friday, October 7, 2011

Fighting a War With a Reserve Army

MRAP Showing IED Damage
My son was wounded in action in July 2011 while serving in Afghanistan. The truck in which he was riding exploded an anti-tank mine. He and several of his buddies were injured in the blast. My son’s injuries, which resulted in the amputation of his right foot, brought home the awful terribleness of war that few in this country observe first hand, let alone experience with a close family member. It brought forth some long-suppressed anger about and disappointment with the way this country has gone to war over the past decades and how we take care of our wounded soldiers.

My son is a member of the Army National Guard. Despite policies to the contrary, the Army has not completely integrated the National Guard and Guardsmen are treated as second class citizens.  Regardless of progress made in this area, the United States has not figured out how to fight a war with a reserve army.

My evidence?

The commanding officer of the unit to which my son was attached in Afghanistan, Texas National Guard unit, did not learn that he had been transferred out of Afghanistan to Germany until my son called him from the hospital in Landstuhl to tell him. While the regular Army divisions have little difficulty in tracking their soldiers, there apparently is no effective system of tracking National Guard soldiers who are in the medical system.

Wounded regular Army soldiers can expect their families to meet them once they arrive at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Not so with National Guard soldiers. The transportation system, which generally does a good job at this, will not begin the process of transporting the families of National Guard soldiers until after they arrive at Walter Reed. This results in delays of at least 48 hours before the wounded soldier can see his wife and/or family.

No one from the Texas National Guard met my son when he arrived in Texas after being transferred from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The rear guard liaison officer was only kept in the loop by the wounded soldiers telling him what was happening to them. It was some days before he managed to contact my son. At that time, there is no system in place to keep the Governor informed of the status of his own Guardsmen who have been injured in action and certainly no system in place to arrange for phone calls, visits, or other appropriate recognition of our wounded.

It is assumed that a regular soldier will be ordered to Brooke Army Medical Center on Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders after about 30 days. This removes the necessity for the Army to pay per-diem and provide lodging for the families after a month. However, Guardsmen are not transferred like regular army soldiers. So, some misinformation is initially provided to National Guard families until the case worker figures out that wounded Guardsmen are handled differently. The preliminary wrong information is at least stressful and unnecessary. 

The solution is to have well-placed and well-trained National Guard liaison officers in place to interface with the case workers to ensure that the differences are well-known and executed correctly. The Guardsmen and their families do not know the rules and should not be expected to know what questions to ask.

After contacting the Governor's office and asking whether the Texas Adjutant General had any sort of routine system whereby he kept the Governor informed of the status of injured Guardsmen, I was informed that the answer was "no."  To his credit, he directed senior staff to liaise with the Texas Adjutant General and set up such a system.  After some weeks, it happened.

On the national level, one positive sign of progress in fully integrating the National Guard into the Army is Senate Bill S-1025, the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011. In this bill, the National Guard would be provided a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  At present, the only representation the National Guard has on the JCS are the Chiefs of the Army and Air Force who, at least technically, represent the Army and Air National Guards respectively.  Despite 61 Senators having signed on as sponsors, the bill is opposed by the Department of Defense.  However, President Obama expressed support for the idea during the 2008 election campaign.  To date, though, the bill is not scheduled for floor action and is not expected to become law.

I am proud of my son’s service and that of his buddies in the Guard. I believe that the leadership of this state and the Texas National Guard are just as proud and are just as concerned that the wounded are adequately and properly cared for. Much is being done correctly with our wounded and I do not want to present the picture that it is hopelessly broken. It is not. I remain concerned, however, that serious gaps exist between desired and actual care, and desired and actual integration of the Guardsmen. We need to take the necessary steps to close those gaps for these soldiers and for those who will follow them.  In the case of the National Guard, the responsibility for closing any gaps must lie with the various state Adjutants General.  Passage of S-1025 would be helpful, too.

Do you support the troops?  Then, talk to your state officials and find out just exactly what they are doing to help our Guardsmen.  These men and women are our neighbors.

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