By Sgt. 1st Class Jon SoucyDecember 20, 2016
ARLINGTON, Va. -- More than 450 Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division headquarters deployed this month, making them the second of two Army National Guard division headquarters currently deployed to a forward location, the first time since the Korean War two Army Guard division headquarters have been forward deployed simultaneously.
"This is the epitome of the Total Force and displays how the Army National Guard is fully integrated into the Total Force," said Army Maj. Gen. Blake Ortner, the commanding general of the 29th ID.
The deployment will see the division provide command and control of units taking part in operational missions, multi-lateral military exercises and theater security cooperation activities in the Middle East. With more than 18,000 troops under its command, it also marks the largest number of Soldiers the division has commanded since World War II, said Ortner.
The 29th ID follows the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, which is currently deployed to Afghanistan. The deployment of the two divisions represents somewhat of a change from the deployments during the Korean War.
"With the Korean War, the Army was caught flat-footed," said Army Lt. Col. Jeff Larrabee, the chief historian at the National Guard Bureau, adding that as a result, four divisions from the Army Guard were mobilized and deployed. "Two were deployed to Korea and two were deployed to Germany."
Numerous other Army Guard companies, battalions and brigades were also called up, as well as four additional divisions who saw service in the U.S. as a strategic reserve. Those divisions called up for service in Korea augmented understrength active component divisions, Larrabee said.
"Recreating or reorganizing a division from scratch in the regular Army would [have taken] too long," he said. "So, the only recourse was to mobilize the Army Guard and get those formations into the active service as soon as possible."
Once mobilized, however, getting those divisions overseas was often a lengthy process.
"They had to be brought up to war strength, which is one huge difference from today," said Larrabee. "For roughly a hundred years, from 1903 until about 2004 or so, the Army Guard had an authorized peacetime strength, which did not equal our wartime organization. That meant if [the Army Guard] were mobilized, we had to have additional personnel flow in to bring those units up to war strength."
Today, said Larrabee, a unit's authorized strength level is its required strength for deployment.
"That's one advantage we have today and that's why the Army Guard is more useful today and more relevant, because we can [deploy quickly]," he said. Back then, once the division was brought up to war strength, those Soldiers then had to train collectively for the deployment.
"That's why it took a long time before they actually deployed outside the country," Larrabee said.
For the Soldiers of the 29th ID, being prepared for this deployment was an integrated part of normal unit training. Earlier this year, members of the unit took part in large-scale, multi-national training exercises in Europe as well as combined, multi-echelon exercises at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
"These training exercises really built the team as we worked under stressful conditions," said Ortner. "We developed and refined processes and procedures to ensure the smooth functioning of the division headquarters. This helped prepare us for any kind of mission that we may be called upon to perform."
The division's primary mission is to provide large-scale oversight to a variety of units.
"With the Army's transition to a modular force the division headquarters are assigned any number of forces under them--brigade combat teams, other brigades, multi-component [units]--whereas in Korea the division was the standard formation," said Larrabee.
But many constants remain.
"Then, as with now, it's providing command and control," Larrabee said, adding that "only now the staffs have to be more agile. The mission is more fluid."
For Ortner, this current deployment is just the next chapter of the 29th ID, whose history includes World War I service in the Argonne Forest, landing in the first wave at Normandy on D-Day and leading the fighting to take St. Lo during World War II, heading up peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and taking part in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Soldiers who came before us established our reputation," said Ortner. "It is our charge to keep it and the Army chose the 29th ID for this mission. I think that says a lot about the 29th."
That spirit is embodied in the division's motto, "29, Let's Go!", said Ortner. Coined during the Second World War, according to Ortner the motto means "drive, determination and a can-do attitude," but also something larger.
"It still means that," he said. "But since [World War II] it has taken on a larger meaning that we can take on any mission, anytime and anywhere. I think this short notice mobilization demonstrates that more than any words can."