By Zach Morgan, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerMarch 4, 2009
Gone are the days of the tongue-in-cheek phrase "weekend warrior." The term, used to describe the part-time nature of National Guard Soldiers' service, is less apt in the current tempo of U.S. military operations, where units (active Army and National Guard alike) deploy with steady frequency. That tempo is evident at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, and Guardsmen play a key role in ongoing operations.
"There are 20 Guardsmen working in different areas on Fort Polk," said Col. William Bartheld, Fort Polk's Army National Guard liaison. "They are part of the team." Bartheld indicated that the nature of Guard duty is complex. "There are Guardsmen throughout our society, and most of the time you wouldn't know they were Guardsmen. Those invisible Soldiers spend most of their time as ordinary citizens."
National Guard Soldiers serve one weekend each month with their local unit and conduct two weeks of training each summer. Their units can be activated (brought to full-time status) by their state governor to attend to natural disasters or other emergencies or deploy in support of national missions. The Guard has filled these roles for centuries.
"We have a great heritage -- 372 years -- that surpasses the lifetime of our nation," said Bartheld. "The Army has never won a war without the National Guard participating. The Guard units that deploy do the same jobs that active component units do." Today's National Guard is strong and diverse, Bartheld said. "We are composed of 54 armies, and each one is different." (These are the National Guards of each of the 50 states, in addition to those of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.)
The relationship between JRTC and the National Guard is symbiotic. "We have a Guard engineer team at Fort Polk that supports post construction projects. They do a lot of work in the JRTC training areas," said Maj. Kevin Daniels, deputy Army National Guard liaison. "There are a handful of Guardsmen serving at Operations Group as well." JRTC also trains Guard units preparing to deploy. "The units that go through JRTC are impressed," Daniels said. He plans to spend most of March visiting units across the country explaining the capabilities of JRTC, and gathering feedback on what those units need in a training environment.
B Company, 1-121 Infantry, from Covington Ga., is one such unit. En route to an overseas deployment, the company stopped off in Louisiana for some high intensity training, JRTC style. Second Lt. Raymond Dillard, a B Co platoon leader, said the training here has been beneficial.
"The only downside to the National Guard is that we don't get as much training as the active-duty Army," he said. "When we mobilize for deployment, though, we get to catch up on that training. That's what we're working on right now -- making sure this unit gets cohesive enough to be successful overseas. It has gone well so far. It is an eye opener when we mess up, but at the same time we are learning something about ourselves."
Cpl. John Lanier, also of B Co, agreed with Dillard. "The active-duty Army trains twice as much as we do, but a lot of the Guard is composed of prior service active-duty Soldiers," he said. "We may train less, but we are on the level of the active duty in terms of accomplishing our mission." This will be Lanier's fourth deployment. He explained that prior service Soldiers have an important role in mentoring their fellow Guardsmen. "It's easy for us to mentor our peers, especially those of us who have been to both Afghanistan and Iraq."
The National Guard's greatest strength, explained Bartheld, is found in its people. "In terms of personnel, we are equal to any other force, even after several years of war," he said. "We have proven ourselves. What we bring to the table is more diversity and capability. Guard Soldiers have military skills as well as civilian skills. We also have a better understanding of dealing with the public. We are tribal, in a sense."
"Afghanistan and Iraq operate with tribal systems," said Capt. Charles Newton, commander, A Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion. "Guardsmen at the lowest levels understand their needs and what we can do for them as an organization."
Newton's Georgia National Guard unit trained at JRTC's "engagement university" Feb. 17. The university is a mock village at the training center populated by roleplayers, where Soldiers can practice winning the hearts and minds of indigenous populations. "This has been my first experience speaking through a translator," Newton said. "We're going to leverage this opportunity to ensure we are ready when we deploy."
Newton explained the composition of the National Guard. "We take talented individuals from the community, put them together and in uniform with one common goal: to defend their nation and provide security and support to their local area. A lot of the Soldiers go to school together, work together, and even hang out outside of drill weekends. That camaraderie makes it easy to command the unit."
First Lt. Bret Thomas, executive officer, A Company, exuded confidence after finishing a conversation with a roleplayer. Thomas had assured the "tribal leader" that his unit represented the U.S. and that they would do everything they could to improve local living conditions and the security environment.
"We don't live the military life every day," Thomas said. "Being civilians helps us communicate with other civilians."
That's what makes the Guard great, said Bartheld. "The National Guard brings community to Fort Polk."