20 January 2012

2012 Condition of the Iowa Guard Speech

Echoing the tradition of the U.S. presidential "State of the Union" address to Congress, the state of Iowa engages in a series of annual speeches from various governmental leaders. The best known is the governor's "State of the State" address—now more likely called the "Condition of the State" in public and in the press—to Iowa legislators. The state supreme court justice annually delivers a "Condition of the Judiciary" speech. In what may be a practice unique to the Hawkeye State, the highest ranking officer of the Iowa National Guard delivers a "Condition of the Guard."

In 2011's Condition of the Guard address, Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr spoke of more than 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and elsewhere. Those soldiers included the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) and the 734th Agri-business Development Team (A.D.T.). Orr is the adjutant general of the state of Iowa, and a former commander of 2-34th BCT. In this week's 2012 address, Orr reported that, for the first time since 2001, most of the Iowa National Guard's approximately 10,000 soldiers and airmen had returned home.

Orr also talked about the National Guard as a cost-effective supplement to active-duty military forces, celebrated developing state military partnerships with Kosovo, and pointed to employment and education efforts that support citizen-soldiers and veterans.

The complete text of Orr's Jan. 18, 2012 address appears below.



It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be here today and report on the condition of our Iowa National Guard, an organization that continues to be “Mission Focused and Warrior Ready.” With the exception of about 90 soldiers and airmen who are currently mobilized as individual deployers, nearly all of our personnel were home for the holidays. And for the first time since 2001, I can report the Iowa National Guard does not have any units currently deployed overseas.

Last month, the final contingent of American soldiers departed Iraq, bringing to a close this extraordinary chapter of American military history. As in previous military campaigns and conflicts, the Iowa National Guard played a prominent role and served with honor and distinction.

I am so proud of those who served and sacrificed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. They helped liberate and secure a country and gave hope to millions of Iraqis. Getting to this day was not easy. It tried our political and military leadership in ways unseen since the challenges of Vietnam. Despite these extraordinary circumstances, the men and women who served there did not falter. They carried out their duties day-in and day-out, many on multiple deployments, to ensure mission success.

Company B, of the 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion, our last Iowa National Guard unit deployed to Iraq, returned home in November after flying more than 7,100 hours in support of Operation New Dawn. As the last CH-47 "Chinook" helicopter unit in Iraq, Company B played a critical role helping to remove personnel and equipment in support of the President’s efforts to have all American forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011, transporting 49,000 passengers and over four million pounds of cargo and equipment on more than 1,800 missions.

We thank the more than 7,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen who served in support of these operations. And to their families who sacrificed in order that our Warriors may serve, we are eternally grateful for all they have done and endured.

Success in Iraq came with a heavy price. We will always honor and remember the brave Iowa National Guard warriors we lost there, our Gold Star families, our wounded warriors and all those whose lives have been forever changed by the adversity of war. We are grateful that so many were willing to serve and sacrifice in spite of these challenges. It is a testament to the character and values of the men and women who serve our state and nation in uniform.

I am so incredibly proud of our Iowa National Guard family—our soldiers, airmen, families, employers, volunteers, and our communities. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for all they have done to make a difference in this noble endeavor.

The deployments of the last 10 years were unprecedented in recent memory as nearly 15,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen mobilized for overseas contingency operations. These missions demonstrated the performance and promise of the Iowa National Guard which is truly your hometown military. Tough, reliable, resilient, adaptable and above all, ready when called—the Iowa National Guard played a vital role in helping defend the Nation during a critical time in our history.

Though busy overseas, we did not lose sight of our most critical mission—homeland defense and support. In fact, we responded to numerous disasters both here in Iowa and across the country that were often exceptional in both size and scope. In doing so, we fulfilled our statutory and constitutional responsibilities to help defend the nation and provide the governor with a state emergency response force.

We are able to protect communities here in Iowa and help defend the United States overseas for approximately one-third the cost of active-duty soldiers and airmen, making the National Guard the “best value for America.”

Two weeks ago, President Obama outlined his Defense Strategic Guidance for sustaining U.S. global leadership in the 21st Century. Based on this guidance, U.S. defense priorities are being reviewed. Part of this process will include looking at the mix of active and reserve component forces. In doing so, we must ensure the National Guard continues to play a vital role as an operational complement to our active duty services.

The most logical option for the nation to preserve its military capability, capacity and depth in times of fiscal constraints is through continued reliance on the National Guard. To do this, the National Guard must remain a modern force, capable of rapidly mobilizing, deploying and integrating into ongoing and future contingency operations.

Since the founding of our republic, the United States has been and continues to be a “militia nation.” This tradition is embedded in our culture and enshrined in our Constitution. With the exception of the large standing military necessitated by World War II and the confrontation with the Soviets during the Cold War, we have traditionally maintained a small active duty force backed up by a strong militia, the successor of which is today’s National Guard.

We are fortunate that [Iowa] Gov. [Terry] Branstad currently serves as the co-chair for the President’s Council of Governors. The council provides a forum for governors to exchange views, information or advice with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and other federal agencies concerning matters of mutual interest regarding National Guard, homeland defense and civil support activities. This council is intended to strengthen the partnership between the federal, state and local governments to better protect our nation, and provide governors, who serve as the commander and chief of the individual state National Guard forces, a voice in the process.

One way we hope to support and adapt to the changing environment is through the National Guard’s State Partnership program (SPP). The March 2011 selection of the Iowa National Guard with the Republic of Kosovo, as the newest state partnership program in the National Guard, will enhance civil and military relationships and strengthen partnership capacity between the United States and Kosovo. The current focus of the program is on noncommissioned officer and officer development activities as well as cooperative initiatives in the disaster response and emergency management arena.

Partnering with Kosovo is a natural fit for the Iowa National Guard and the state of Iowa. Our relationship with Kosovo is not new, over the course of the last 10 years we have deployed hundreds of Iowa National Guard soldiers there as part of NATO’s peacekeeping security force. The most recent unit, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation, returned home from Kosovo in April, where they successfully flew more than 150 missions supporting 15 different NATO countries. One of their greatest accomplishments was building strong relationships with Kosovo communities by providing English instruction to local students and helping them with college entrance requirements.

Our goal is to build a “Whole of Iowa” to “Whole of Kosovo” relationship. An example of this approach would be in the area of education where the state of Iowa is a national leader. The Iowa-Kosovo SPP is off to a fast and productive start with engagements with the Kosovo Security Forces, Kosovo’s minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Agriculture, Health and Education. We currently have conducted over 12 exchange events with Kosovo since March 2011.

One of our near-term goals is to establish a sister-state relationship and foster several sister-city relationships to further enhance this partnership. Working with our communities and the Iowa Sister States’ program, we want to establish relationships that will be of mutual interest to the citizens of Iowa and Kosovo.

Today, I am pleased to introduce Maj. Gen. Kadri Kastrati, the commander of the Kosovo Security Force, who is with us this morning as my honored guest. I asked him to be here today to help highlight this critically important relationship, observe our legislative process and meet some of our key leaders.

Please join me in giving Gen. Kastrati a warm Iowa welcome.

Gen. Kastrati, thank you for making this journey to join us here today. We are honored to be partnered with Kosovo and we look forward to a strong and productive relationship in the years ahead.

Since its inception in 1989, the Iowa National Guard’s Counter Drug Task Force, which is federally funded through the Department of Defense, has played an important role in helping reduce both the supply and demand of illicit drugs in the state of Iowa. It adds value to our communities by making them safer, leverages unique military skills and dual-use equipment, and serves as another example of the performance and promise of your hometown military.

By providing professional, military analytical support to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the state, we have assisted with thousands of cases leading to nearly 1,700 arrests and the seizure of over $38 million in illicit drugs as well as more than $1.7 million in cash and assets. Our Counterdrug Aviation Detachment helicopter support section provides aerial reconnaissance and surveillance, integration, and command and control to support law enforcement drug interdiction efforts.

The Midwest Counter-Drug Training Center, located on Camp Dodge, provides critical training at no cost to law enforcement officers, military personnel, and prevention and treatment professionals. Last year, the Midwest Counter-Drug Training Center conducted 340 courses, training over 13,000 students from across the United States. This program is especially important for small or rural law enforcement agencies that do not have the funding to pay for this type of training.

A year and a half ago, we deployed nearly 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers from every corner of the state to Afghanistan for our largest deployment since World War II. This deployment, which took nearly one-third of our force, was a tremendous undertaking for our entire organization. We pulled soldiers and units from across the state to augment the 2nd Brigade, [34th Inf. Div.], relied heavily on our state headquarters and other supporting commands to assist with mobilizing soldiers, moving equipment and taking care of families while their loved-one was away. It was truly a statewide effort.

The 2nd Brigade, [as] Task Force Red Bulls, conducted a complex mission in a very challenging part of the world. For only the second time in recent memory, a National Guard brigade combat team assumed responsibility for “battlespace” in Afghanistan. From the relative peace of Panjshir province, to the complex operations of Bagram Air Field and the instabilities of Laghman Province, Iowa National Guard Soldiers distinguished themselves in accomplishing their mission.

They participated in one of the largest airborne assaults and clearing operations conducted by the 101st Airborne Division, doing so without suffering any battlefield injuries. They established a new district center in the Galush valley bringing security and government services to a remote population threatened by Taliban insurgents.

They hunted down and removed high value targets from the battlefield, helping to lessen roadside bomb and rocket attacks on our forces. They worked to train Afghan soldiers and police officers, doing so with the unique skills that only a citizen-soldier can provide.

With only a few hours to prepare, they flew into a dangerous corner of Nuristan Province with their Afghan National Army partners to reclaim a police station overrun by Taliban insurgents. Though outnumbered, these Red Bull soldiers fought off a determined enemy force for more than eight hours. Reinforced by U.S. Special Forces and Afghan Commando elements, they retook the district center, and suffered no friendly casualties.

When the call came out to secure a downed helicopter, it was Iowa Red Bull soldiers who responded, helping to stop insurgents from overrunning the crash site and allowing friendly forces to recover the crew.

And perhaps most importantly, TF Red Bulls led the way in developing transition plans for much of its area of responsibility including Panjshir and Parwan Provinces as well as the Mehtar Lam municipality. These were critical steps in preparing these areas to assume greater responsibility for their own security, development efforts and governance.

While Task Force Red Bulls was securing its corner of Afghanistan, the 734th Agri-business Development Team, also known as Task Force Hawkeye, was busy conducting operations in Kunar Province. This joint Iowa Army and Air National Guard team initiated or expanded demonstration farms in six different districts; they implemented Veterinary Outreach Sustainment Programs which helped Afghan veterinarians treat nearly 40,000 head of livestock; they underwrote the planting of more than 70,000 trees for orchards and reforestation; they facilitated, or conducted training of hundreds of Afghan men and women on tree nurseries, orchard planting, greenhouse growing, row crop production, veterinary professional development, and basic livestock care; they funded cash-for-work canal cleaning projects that made possible the irrigation of thousands of acres of agricultural land; and through their Female Engagement Team launched a range of micro-entrepreneurial projects for Afghan women including soap-making, in-home sewing and small-scale poultry production.

Because of the unique nature of the Ag Development Team’s mission, several Iowa organizations provided support to their deployment by assisting them with pre-mobilization training and reach-back capability while they were in Afghanistan. I want to mention and thank the following organizations for their assistance and support to this important mission:
The 132nd Fighter Wing was also busy supporting overseas contingency operations. They provided five, F-16 aircraft and 54 airmen to assist another fighter wing with its Air Expeditionary Force rotation to Afghanistan and sent 34 expeditionary combat support airmen to 11 locations in Southwest Asia.

This past year, the wing flew more than 3,700 hours, which is 103 percent of their allocated flying hours, doing so with the lowest funded maintenance package in the Air National Guard. Because of this, they have the second lowest cost per flying hour compared to all ANG F-16 units and are the only Air National Guard wing to reduce energy costs four straight years. Perhaps most impressive and important is their safety record. They have amassed a phenomenal record of nearly 94,000 flight hours without a serious mishap and have one of the best maintenance groups in the Air Force as demonstrated by winning the 2011 Air National Guard Maintenance Effectiveness Award.

The Des Moines Airbase’s 132nd Distributed Training Operations Center provides daily tactical Distributed Mission Operations training events on 18 types of weapons systems to nearly 70 different sites across the country. Last year, this one-of-a-kind capability supported 4,700 events, trained 9,600 war fighters and fulfilled over 20,000 training requirements, providing a significant cost savings to the Department of Defense training budget.

In Sioux City, the 185th Air Refueling Wing built on its outstanding record by winning the Airlift Tanker Association's Maj. Gen. Stanley F.H. Newman Award for being the best tanker wing in the country.

They deployed 370 airmen in support of contingency operations at 24 overseas and two stateside locations including two simultaneous deployments to Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar and Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. As one of the first Air National Guard units tasked to support hostilities occurring in Libya, they flew nearly 590 hours during 65 missions in which they provided more than two million pounds of fuel to aircraft supporting Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector.

They conducted three, two-week Aero-Medical Evacuations missions out of Bagram Air Field. helping to evacuate 177 wounded warriors from combat operations in Afghanistan. They also flew three air evacuation missions stateside, safely transporting 75 critical care patients throughout the United States, and executed seven missions in the Pacific theater evacuating more than 100 injured patients from that area.

While we are grateful so many of our Iowa National Guard Warriors have returned home after a busy year of deployments, we must not forget those still recovering from injury or illness related to their mobilizations. More than 100 of our wounded warriors are still receiving medical care, either at military treatment facilities across the country or from health care providers in their local communities. For us, these deployments are not truly over until the last of our wounded Warriors return home. It is our solemn obligation to keep faith with those who served and sacrifice and ensure they receive all the support and assistance they require.

On the domestic response front, we provided Iowa National Guard assistance to combat unprecedented flooding along the Missouri river. While not our largest state response mission, it was by far our longest, lasting more than 100 days. During the course of this emergency, we put nearly 1,000 soldiers and airmen on State Active Duty to assist.

Starting in May, we provided a UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopter through a mutual-assistance mission to help local authorities place large sandbags in the Dakota Dunes area of Southeastern South Dakota.

In support of the Homeland Security Emergency Management Division, we set up a Joint Task Force and dispatched Iowa National Guard alumni to coordinate with county-level civilian emergency managers and officials. We also dispatched Critical Infrastructure Assessment Teams, which consists of uniformed National Guard personnel familiar with civil constructions topics, to provide assessments on ongoing infrastructure issues.

Starting June 4, levee breaches in Missouri required the mandatory evacuation of 600 citizens from Hamburg, Iowa. We provided helicopter support to place sandbags to shore up the failing levees. On June 10, we provided Iowa Air and Army National Guard personnel to monitor levees in Sioux City and Pottawattamie and Mills Counties. By the mid-August operational peak, we had approximately 284 Guard members on duty to support civil flood response efforts. When five inches of rain and hail in the Council Bluffs area caused local flooding, we provided six high-water tactical vehicles to assist with emergency rescue operations, helping to evacuate 24 children from a school bus stalled in four feet of water, as well as seven people and two pets.

One reason we’ve been able to maintain our position as a national leader among our fellow states is because of our National Guard Educational Assistance Program (N.G.E.A.P.). This critical recruiting and retention tool helps ensure our readiness. Without it, we couldn’t have mustered the necessary personnel to meet all of our overseas and in-state mobilization requirements over the last 15 years. NGEAP is also a great benefit to our soldiers and airmen. Each year approximately 1,100 to 1,200 of our members attend Iowa colleges and universities through this program. It keeps young people here in the state and through their service in the Iowa National Guard helps deepen their Iowa roots. We greatly appreciate the assistance provided by the Governor, the legislature and the Iowa College Student Aid Commission to ensure we help to meet the education needs of our Iowa National Guard Warriors in exchange for their service to our state.

Most of our members come back from deployment and return to what they were doing before they left. They return to work, go back to the farm, enroll in school or pursue new opportunities. However, some find this transition difficult. They may have been unemployed or underemployed before deploying or returned to find their positions eliminated due to the economic downturn. Others may simply want a new challenge after their deployment experience. Whatever the reason, nearly 10 percent of our returning Warriors are looking for work. And we have an obligation to help.

Working with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (E.S.G.R.) and our Job Connection Education program, we are actively working to assist our soldiers, airmen and their spouses to find gainful employment. We have partnered with Iowa Workforce Development and local human resource management groups to assist our members. Through this process we have developed a one day course designed to assist returning service members searching for work. We assist them with writing resumes and cover letters in order to translate their military experience into meaningful civilian skills. We work on interviewing techniques and practice interviewing skills and we prepare them for job fairs.

Through our partnerships with Iowa Workforce Development, we have placed computers kiosks in our armories to assist our members with finding and applying for job openings. Last October we supported with other state and federal agencies a veterans’ job fair and have begun posting job openings, targeting veterans on websites like the National Guard’s Jobs Connection Education Program and Employer Partnership.

Despite our largest deployment since World War II and the lengthiest state mobilization in recent memory, the Iowa National Guard continued to demonstrate the performance and promise of your hometown military. Regardless of the challenge, we will remain “Always Ready and Always There” for the citizens of our great state and the defense of America.

The future remains uncertain. As the challenges of the last 10 years fade, new ones are sure to emerge. Budget constraints and shifting priorities will impact how we operate and what we are asked to do in the years ahead. Despite these challenges, the Iowa National Guard will remain “Mission Focused and Warrior Ready.”

On behalf of our soldiers, airmen and their families, I want to thank you for this opportunity to provide an assessment of the Iowa National Guard. We are so grateful for the continued support we receive from the general assembly, the governor, lieutenant governor, and the citizens of Iowa.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

18 January 2012

Book Review: 'Until Tuesday'

When U.S. Army veteran Luis Carlos Montalván returned from war in Iraq, he attempted to fight physical injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) with alcohol. Now, Montalvan sees himself as part of a buddy team, one that negotiates a thousand potential obstacles and conflicts every time they move out the door.

His buddy's name is Tuesday, a golden retriever who wears a uniform. Tuesday is a psychiatric service animal.

Montalván describes Tuesday's purpose early in his book, "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him":
Tuesday isn't an ordinary dog. He walks directly beside me, for instance, or exactly two steps in front, depending on his mood. He guides me down stairs. He is trained to respond to more than 150 commands and to realize when my breathing changes or my pulse quickens, so that he can nudge me with his head until I've come out of the memories and back to the present. He is my barrier against crowds, my distraction from anxiety, and my assistant in everyday tasks. Even his beauty is a form of protection, because it attracts attention and puts people at ease. [p. 4]
Montalván's book, co-authored with Brit Witter, goes on to present a conversationally paced primer on service animals, PTSD, and how people don't always make it easy for soldiers to come home from war.

Dog-lovers will revel in Tuesday's apparent sense of humor, and the dog's own journey growing up as misfit of the litter. People who love and support soldiers will appreciate the plain-spoken insights of an American fighting man, in and after the uniform. For example:
It's not the fear of death that damages the mind in the combat zone [...] It's the constant state of watchfulness [...] After a while, my body stopped understanding that it was under stress and started thinking that watching for death, always, was simply the way to live. When you can laugh about gunfire and mortar rounds, instead of ducking them, your mind has changed. [p. 59]
Even when pushing toward the poetic or introspective, Montalván's prose remains rooted in the practical. In one scene early in training and bonding with Tuesday, for example, Montalván literally "takes a knee," a teaching and centering technique recognizable to any soldier:
[T]he trainer [...] was a real drill sergeant, and she kept insisting that I jerk hard on his leash to regain his attention. Well, I'd had enough of drill sergeants, and Tuesday had, too. I didn't have any interest in choking him, but with Tuesday refusing to behave, and the trainer chirping at me, and the photographer waiting, my pulse began to pound and I felt a familiar PTSD-like anxiety creeping into my mind [...]

So I took a time-out. I got down on one knee, right in the middle of the sidewalk in downtown Dobbs Ferry, grabbed Tuesday around the neck, and put my forehead against his. I waited until he stopped glancing around, then started talking to him in a calm, quiet voice. [...] After a few seconds, I knew Tuesday was listening. [...]

Lu Picard [another trainer] told me later we were together for five minutes, although I could have sworn it was thirty seconds at the most.

"What was that about?" she asked, as Tuesday and I walked past, side by side.

"We're okay now," I told her. "We reached an understanding." [p. 127]
Lessons are easy to sniff out along the way, such as "The leash goes both ways" and "PTSD is dwelling disease." The book's pace is easy, the tone conversational. Mostly, it's like walking the dog. There more than a few playful romps, but there are also occasinal tense moments and tight spots, everything from an Iraqi-border showdown to a first-date frustrated by a dog-blocking bus driver.

Montalván and Tuesday are now ambassadors of a sort, out to win hearts and minds, and to open doors for others like them.
Imagine if a store owner said every day to a customer, "Sorry, no wheelchairs. We don't want people like you in here." Horrible, right? Well, that's what physical barriers like steps say to wheelchair-bound people every day. And that's how it felt every day with Tuesday, who was as vital to me as a wheelchair to a paraplegic. [p. 175]

Everyone knows you don't grow back a leg that's been blown off by an IED, but everyone assumes you can heal a brain that's been scarred. You can't. You can restore trust. You can reconnect with the world. You can live a full life. But the experience is with you forever. It doesn't have to be burden. [...] For me, it was a new way to serve. [p. 193]


Luis Carlos Montalván will speak to a Central Iowa audience Sunday, Feb. 12 about the ways his service dog has influenced his life, with a book signing to follow. Roosevelt High School, 4419 Center St., Des Moines, Iowa, 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $20, and are available at Canine Craze and Beaverdale Books, via Paws & Effect, or at the door.

This event is a fundraiser for Paws & Effect, a Des Moines-based non-profit that trains and places service animals with combat veterans and others. It can cost more than $20,000 to purchase, train, outfit, and maintain a psychiatric service animal.

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may remember that the organization named one litter of future service dogs has been named in honor of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

For more information regarding the Feb. 12 event, contact Paws & Effect Executive Director Nicole Shumate at: nicoleshumate@paws-effect.org; 515.822.5285.

05 January 2012

Good Soldiers Never Bad-mouth the Boss

When U.S. Army Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, West Des Moines, Iowa, a drilling member of the U.S. Army Reserve, put on his combat uniform and took a Des Moines, Iowa stage with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, the not-so-strategic corporal officially crossed the phase line between "dumb" and "stupid." In doing so, he helped illuminate the potential consequences of a warrior class at odds with the society it protects, and the need for both citizens and soldiers to recommit to their respective roles within the republic.

Bottom line up front: Army regulations do not allow allow you to wear the U.S. flag on your shoulder while also waving the banner of a political candidate. Particularly if your mere presence is an implied criticism of your commander-in-chief.

(Side note: Unless you're currently in the military, you don't have a "commander-in-chief." See this nicely observed essay inspired by another presidential candidate's recent remarks in Iowa here. And another homegrown military-and-politics-don't-mix article from 2011 here.)

Every Joe knows this. Particularly in Iowa, which becomes a political no-man's-land every four years. Other states have primary elections, but Iowa has its first-in-the-nation caucuses. A caucus is an inherently partisan event, run by party volunteers, at which participants can be expected to publicly advocate on behalf of politicians and platform planks.

If you're headed to your precinct caucus immediately following your duty day, you take off the uniform and put on civvies. With apologies to George Washington: "When you assume the citizen, you leave behind the soldier."

Caucus meetings can involve a lot of raucous political prodding and poking, jibing and joking. Some of it may even be good-natured. If you want the essential flavor of the thing, consider a few of Iowa writer Trevor Meers' notes from his rural precinct caucus:
GOP Neighbor opened the session with the Pledge of Allegiance, even though there was no flag in the room. “Well,” he said, “just look, um, somewhere.” We sat down to start the caucus, and the old guy in the flag cap said, “This feels a lot like the Possum Lodge.” [...]

Mitt’s man went right to Romney’s status as a family man. “He’s been married almost as many years as I have. I, uh, don’t know how many that is.” Laughter rolled through the community hall. “43 years! That’s it! 43 years.” [...]

No one volunteered to speak for Newt, then GOP Neighbor asked, “Is there anyone who wishes to speak on behalf of Jon Huntsman? No? I didn’t think so.”
Bottom line: The Iowa Caucuses are not private, closed-curtain and secret-ballot kinds of affairs. They're more like neighborhood block-parties.

Unlike the U.S. Army Reserve, the U.S. National Guard falls under the peacetime commands of the 54 state and territorial governors. Because of this, the National Guard is more likely to be called to help civil authorities respond to natural and manmade disasters. When the National Guard shows up to help sandbag against the flood or clean up from the tornado, every Joe knows that—while the uniform conveys a certain amount of knowledge, capability, and authority—the civilians are decisively in charge. The citizen-soldier, the oft-heard saying goes, is only "there to help."

(Side note to U.S. Army Reserve: The more appropriate term is "citizen-soldiers." That's "citizens" first, "soldiers" when necessary. Your repeated attempts to substitute "warrior-citizen" seems a dangerous play to militarize the populace. This is not Sparta. Not yet, anyway.)

I remember sitting in a stateside Tactical Operations Center in 2010, prior to Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployment to Afghanstan. News of Michael Hasting's Rolling Stone reports regarding the snarky culture of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Afghan command had just hit the airwaves, and we were watching cable news programming in-between drone flights. One go-to sergeant observed that any of the "jokes" described would be unacceptable in the Iowa National Guard, if they were directed by a soldier toward a governor or other elected official. I have never forgotten Sully's sage advice:

"You don't bad-mouth the boss, even if you didn't vote for him."



Here's how the Wisconsin National Guard (home to the 32nd Infantry "Red Arrow" Brigade Combat Team, a unit affiliated with 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division) put out the post-Thorsen word in typically plain-spoken Midwestern-speak:
The Dairy State gained national attention in 2011 for the large political demonstrations at the state capitol, and this year’s presidential election promises further political carbonation in a swing state.

So what can a Wisconsin National Guard member say or do in this politically charged environment?

The short answer? The Department of Defense does not endorse any political candidate or party. As a service member—whether active Guard and Reserve (AGR), federal technician or traditional drilling status—you cannot give the impression that any part of the military endorses a political candidate, party or movement.
Questions? Ask your JAG.



Blogger and reporter Carl Prine—himself a former Marine and National Guard soldier—offered a take-no-prisoners analysis of Thorsen's political actions. In it, he takes to task would-be activists such as Thorsen, should-know-better candidates, the dangerous military mindset that places soldiers above citizens, and even the support-your-troops culture at large. A couple of favorite Prine lines:
[To the military:] Thorsen is the monster you helped to create. It’s what happens when the speeches of your officers turn every REMF into a “warrior” and your press releases raise even lowly men like me into capital-s “Soldiers” standing typographically taller than all those mere little-c civilians.

[To the public:] You’ve trapped those who did their duty in the boneyards of Ramadi and Kandahar by slamming shut the iron gate of stoploss. And when our veterans returned home from battle, you refused to hire them.

“Thank you for your service,” you say. “And yes, I would like fries with that.”


Writer Michael Hastings, vilified in some mil-circles after his McChrystal profile resulted in the general's resignation, recently published a book. A couple of paragraphs from a recent Wired interview stand out as relevant to the Thorsen incident:
[T]he burdens of this war have fallen on so few. So, so few. Goddamn right the people who did serve should feel like their opinion matters, maybe even should matter more. But then you get into a Starship Troopers scenario [where citizenship is measured by military service]. I think the only way to combat against that is for everyone to do their best to understand what’s really going on. And to do their best to understand that just because someone has a uniform on doesn’t mean you need to genuflect. You can be respectful and thank them. But one has to be able to be as critical of four-star general as of Newt Gingrich. You have to treat these people like they’re flawed human beings like you.


Time magazine's Mark Thompsen, in describing Thorsen's mistake of wearing a uniform while rallying for Ron Paul, also noted:
Admiral Mike Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until last fall, made a special point of telling U.S. troops to remain apolitical. “Keeping our politics private is a good first step,” he said in an oft-quoted 2008 article he wrote for Joint Forces Quarterly, a Pentagon publication. “The only things we should be wearing on our sleeves are our military insignia.”


Afghan war veteran Rajiv Srinivasan, a spokesperson for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (I.A.V.A.), chose to write about Thorsen's political performance in the best possible light:
We must recognize that, in each of our returning veterans, there is an internal struggle to reconcile the utility of their life’s work over the past decade with the hardships they’ve endured. Our society’s ambivalence gives veterans the prerogative to define their worth of service—and thus the American uniform—on their own terms.

If the American service uniform truly means something to our nation, then we must start taking better care of those who wear it, have worn it and who continue to bear its responsibilities. It’s more than a simple “Thank you for your service.” It means asking, “How can I help you get a job, care for your family, build a life back home?”