Bearing the burden of Iraq


Not long ago while perusing reports of the daily slaughter in Iraq, I noticed that one of those killed in action was a 48-year-old enlisted man with five children.

What, I asked myself, is a man of that age with those responsibilities doing in this fight? We didn’t take those men in World War II. Then it occurred to me. He was either a member of the National Guard or the Reserve.

The recent casualty lists from Iraq reflect a military problem common to most wars but punctuated in this one by the apparent lack of professional troops, a reliance on citizen soldiers who signed up for the National Guard to serve their states and to be called up to federal duty in extraordinary times. Iraq seems to be one of those times as the U.S. military struggles to keep up with the manpower demands.

The result has been the loss of their services, often permanently, to their families and communities that was never anticipated when they enlisted for part time duty in what has been known, sometimes derisively and unfairly, as the “weekend warriors.” These are often men and women approaching middle age who come from the same locale, not 18-year-old regular military volunteers who come together from different parts of the country. The impact, therefore, can be devastating to their towns.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, sees this as one of the major concerns of the continuing long-term deployment of Guard troops, calling the overuse of these forces the result of “a tone deafness” that has plagued the war planning and management from the beginning. He notes that in his state 80 percent of the guard has been called to fight in Iraq, “exacting a huge strain on families and employers both private and public.” The losses to community services include policemen, nurses and teachers, fathers and mothers.

Almost daily there is a new report of a father or even a mother who has left the children to head for the war zone, something that would have been unimaginable in previous conflicts. As a youngster immediately following World War II, I remember vividly seeing several survivors of the Bataan death march who had been called up in the National Guard and sent to the Philippines as the war approached. A recent acquaintance, Nick Chintis, an Indiana boy who had gone to play basketball in New Mexico, joined that state’s Guard, a coastal artillery unit, and with a teammate became one of the heroes of that terrible experience, returning to and remaining in his adopted college-town community of Silver City the rest of his life.

But that was a time when the pre-Pearl Harbor standing military was tiny and the first draft was being instituted only as a precaution with draftees serving a short time. Certainly, Guard units carried much of the fighting load at the beginning and even throughout World War II. Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of that conflict, was a member of the Texas National Guard. When Korea began, U.S. permanent forces had been drastically reduced so units like the Oklahoma National Guard once more had to carry much of the water until regular Army units could be trained.

The difference now, however, is enormous. This was supposed to be a limited engagement in two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, to be fought by regular career troops. The fact that it is now being undertaken by a disproportionate number of part-timers is, as Huckabee noted, testimony to the bad planning that went into this exercise. He points out that although the number of casualties in Iraq is low in comparison to other wars, including Vietnam, the impact is horrendous when men and women vital to their families and communities are killed.

As the Congress debates the plan to increase U.S. troops by 21,500 and President Bush asks for funds to bolster the manpower in the Army and Marine Corps, it has become clear that many of those in the Reserves and National Guard, most of whom are in their second tour, probably will have their terms extended once again. This is a problem facing governors when their states’ own needs arise. It is also a dilemma for any number of cities and towns across the nation where important members of the community are being missed as never before in what was supposed to be a short-term affair and has now lasted longer than World War II.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. Greg Dean

    Mr Thomasson misses the point. WW2 was fought among excussively by reservists. Even draftees are basically citizen soldiers, not professional military. If we have any problem today, it is that 40% of the military has not deployed (nearly 60% of the officer corps). We made a decision during the Gulf War that all future wars would be fought with reservists so as to insure that the public had some stake in the fight.

    If anything, our military is too elite now. Over 72% of the young people, ages 17 to 30, can not meet military standards (DoD studies shown as of last year 95% were being rejected). The maturity among most of those under 30 is less than what a WW2 14 year old would have been. So we do want older soldiers (there are a lot of older troops even in active duty).

    Plus during WW2 less than 5% of the population was over 50, today it is nearly 50%. Even then, the average age of a recruit during WW2 was 26.

    As for those who want to impeach the president, over my dead body. As a soldier, I will come home to fight you if this is tried. You will have a civil war!

  2. Doreen McCabe

    We were going to war come hell or high water. Remember folks it all about the oil. Our misguided dependency and the beginning of the brainwashing/propogandizing of Americans began after WWII. (See documentaries the End of Surburbia, Crude Impact.) We would never have invaded Iraq if their biggest export were carrots!!!The death count does not/will not matter to the the corportacrcy/LOL government of this USA. Where were all the people on January 27. There should have been a million or more marching on DC. The truth has been out there now. These families losing their loved ones should be so angry and in the faces of their representatives demanding accountability/justice for this illegal, immoral war. I mean come on, the pentagon is found guilty of “inappropriate intel work.” Oh but now Anna Nicole Smith’s death has managed to be the lead story everywhere along with the astronaut!! People, let’s show the biggest stance ever on March 17 at the Pentagon. Pass the word to as many angry, fed up Americans as you can. Watch FSTV and LINK TV. And just think about those 2006 profits made by the oil companies, not to mention the 2005, 2004…!!!

  3. Ray

    Wars are a racket. They are designed to make a few people extremely wealthy. Anyone who hasn’t figured that out by now, is brain washed. The leaders of nations are used by the real powers that be. Friction is created between the leaders and they send thier armies to slug it out while the leaders who started it sit back and not worry about dying. In the meantime mega dollars are made while young men die. That has been going on since the turn of the century and before. Think about it, who in thier right mind would create the mess in Iraq and be responsible for all the death and evironmental poisoning that continues, and will continue. Only someone so evil and greedy and heartless. If Bush is so convinced that this is needed, why is he not there fighting and risking his ass. We all know the answer to that. Eventually all you gung ho types are going to see how you are being used as pawns in a big lie. What a friggin waste. Billions, trillions of dollars, enough to feed the planet, heal the sick, educate the ignorant and save the planet. All that for a lie. Really stupid, when you think about it. Even more obvious when viewed in the right perspective, and not the spin. And man is said to be the highest intelligence. How many animals have you seen do such nonsense?

  4. ron kay

    ….the day the monied bastards who start the wars actually have to go out in the trenches and fight the wars….is the day there will be no more war.

    meanwhile…..where’s Osama ??

  5. Ardie

    People who blame President Clinton also, by implication, condemn U.S. forces before 9/11 for doing a great job of containing Saddam.