- To explain in plain language the roles, responsibilities, and routines of the U.S. citizen-soldier, with particular focus on the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.
- To illuminate ways in which citizen-soldiers past and present—as well as their families—can be remembered, supported, and celebrated.
- Minnesota's 1-34th BCT (also a "Red Bull" division unit, deployed to Kuwait until later this summer.)
Despite my reservations regarding the evils of commenting on the news, three recent stories have provided examples around which to explore these topics:
U.S. Army Reserve Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, 28, who made the mistake of wearing an Army Combat Uniform (A.C.U.) and speaking at a nationally televised political rally in Iowa last month. Thorsen's actions offered an opportunity to reflect upon this dilemma: How does a citizen-soldier appropriately engage a political discourse that is often too-lacking in boots-on-the-ground experiences and insights?
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, 48, who decided to go directly to Congress with his opinions and analysis of conditions in Afghanistan. Davis' decision offered an opportunity to reflect upon this question: What are a soldier's responsibilities to reconcile what he has seen downrange with what political leaders and military generals are telling the public?
To this list, now add Army spouse and blogger "Catie," who, in a relatively short number of words on Feb. 8, managed this week to punch any number of emotional hot buttons regarding the U.S. National Guard. Catie is reportedly a relatively young wife of an active-duty U.S. Army recruiter stationed in Vermont, a state in which, as she observes and complains, there are no federal Army posts. Here's a quick sampling of her insights:
The Guard ACUs are almost exactly the same as [active-duty] Army, and many civilians (and myself) don't understand a lot of the differences in company patches. [...]To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, "If your blood-pressure is up, having read any of Catie's words, you just might be a National Guard soldier. Or married to one."
The National Guard spouses around here like to refer to themselves as 'Army Wives'. They aren't. They are wives of Guardsmen or "Guard Wife". I am the wife of an active duty, federal soldier. That being said, the Hubs is not a Marine, he is not a Sailor, he is not an Airman. Call a Marine's wife an Army wife and see what happens. They will correct you as quickly as I will correct you. A dog is not a cat, it'll never meow. [...]
He is not a regular army Soldier, you are not an Army wife. It's nothing to be ashamed of. [...]
I'm just trying to point out the blatant differences between a Vermont Guard member, and a United States Soldier. [...]
As I said before, Vermont Guard is a State Militia [...] [Note: This is in a state that has both a National Guard and a State Militia, and that saw the combat deployment of more than 1,500 citizen-soldiers to Afghanistan in 2009-2010.]
This goes beyond good-natured inter-service or Big Army/Small Army rivalry. She doesn't seem to realize that some National Guard personnel—recruiters are one small example—go to work each day in uniform, full-time. She fails to acknowledge that National Guard personnel regularly attend Army drills, schools, and deployments in excess of the old "one weekend a month, two weeks a year" model. She gets a lot of jargon wrong. (Examples: It's an Army "post," not a "base." And there is no such item on an Army uniform as a "company patch.")
Perhaps Catie is purposefully "trolling," and trying to get a rise out of people to increase her readership. (In support of this theory: She notably labelled her post "Stirring the Pot ...") Perhaps she (and her soldier-husband, who defended her post in a now-removed comments section) really are out of step and tune with the U.S. National Guard.
Either way, Catie provides a good example of a continuing bad trend. Even with more than 10 years of repeated combat deployments; even with the cultural and technological transformation of the National Guard into an operational reserve, which at one time bore nearly 50 percent of the Army's combat deployments to Iraq; and despite the continued challenges of addressing the needs of decentralized populations of soldiers, families, wounded warriors, and veterans, some people just aren't that into us:
- Active-duty soldiers who argue they don't need to salute National Guard officers.
- Internet-wonks who snipe that, now that the National Guard has a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Guard personnel should have to wear special uniforms, rather than "U.S. Army" or "U.S. Air Force" service tapes.
- Army wives who think there's more to be gained by focusing on differences than by supporting each other—and our soldiers, regardless of the patches we wear.
News update: "Command Apologies for Anti-Guard Comments" at SpouseBUZZ blog.
See also: Recruiting Station Burlington, Vt. command-team response regarding "Army Wife" blog post.