"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
In February, I wrote a column upbraiding the national planners for exploiting the National Guard in conducting the war in Iraq. I argued that continuous life-threatening duty was not in the deal made by all of the Guard men and women but that many of them joined up as a means of financing their higher education. They had bargained for weekend training and emergency duty, such as fighting floods, policing events, and serving as a community resource, but not extended months of combat.
For choosing Guard service as the price for their higher education, I noted, young people were being exposed daily to roadside bombs, rocket attacks and sniper fire. And even though they were being exploited, they heroically answered the call in the face of an unjust assignment.
This February column found its way to Iraq and several months later I received a lengthy letter from one of the Guardsmen confirming the comments I had made.
"I hope you don't forget about us because your writing can help people realize the reality of the situation," he wrote in his first paragraph. Then he went on to explain that he had a dream of going to college and was enticed to join the Guard because of its promise to help finance his education....
He was assigned to traveling up and down the highways to locate roadside bombs. It was a dangerous mission and the equipment was inadequate. Instead of an armored vehicle, he was assigned a heavy gravel truck insulated with boxes of sand. Not only was he in constant danger of running over bombs but he was a ready target for snipers along the road....
With Guardsmen facing a prolonged threat to life and limb and a denial of certain benefits, it is little wonder that his July letter reflected a sense of betrayal and abandonment. There was no question that he felt the Guard was being exploited during these months of constant danger, inadequate equipment, extended tours of duty and logistical miscalculations.
For the Guard, service in Iraq has not improved since his July letter. The danger appears to be greater as insurgents continue roadside bombing and sniping. Tours of duty have been extended time and again; pressure tactics have been used to force re-enlistments; troops have not been allowed to leave when their enlistments were up.
All the while, North Dakota's political and military leaders have been silent about these abuses. Maybe they think that it would be unpatriotic to call abuse for what it is. Maybe they don't want to add to the president's embarrassment by publicly protesting. Maybe they don't regard the situation as abuse. Maybe they believe national defense is not their business. Regardless of their reasons for silence, strong public protest by the governor and the adjutant general would lift the morale of those Guard men and women who feel that they are being unfairly treated.
As for my July correspondent, he will not be taking advantage of that college education he was promised. Spc. Cody Wentz of Williston, N.D., was killed in Iraq a few weeks ago. This column is being written to honor his request that we not forget the Guard and to help people understand the reality of the situation.