Monday, February 14, 2005

Blasts From The Past, And Other Places Part 7

The National Guard and President Bush

Dan Rather’s forged papers proclaiming President Bush did not fulfill his National Guard obligations did not surprise me.

Not because I believe the president lied, but because what CBS accused the president of doing was not unusual for Guardsmen. Not showing up for drill, being physically incapable of doing your duty or simply being poorly led used to be par for the course for some units in the Guard.

I was a member of the New York Army National Guard from 1985-88. I served as a corporal in two different infantry units. One based in Plattsburgh, N.Y. and another on Long Island.

The first unit was top notch. I was one of the 20 or so founding members of the unit, Co. C. 3/172nd Inf. (Mtn.) and very proud to be wearing my nation’s uniform. Our monthly training drills were exciting and packed with useful information. We learned infantry tactics, how to repel down cliffs, live in a winter environment and to attack and defend positions.

I served with this unit while a college student. When I graduated I moved home to Long Island where I met a long-time friend and fellow Guardsmen who said there was a slot open in his unit, the Combat Support Company, 1/71st Inf. He was platoon sergeant of the scout platoon. As this sounded like a high-speed unit I took him up on his offer and joined.

Well, despite my friend’s best efforts, he was and is a fine soldier and about to embark on a tour of Iraq, this unit was an abomination. It did not train. In fact we did little but wash jeeps and occasionally spend the night in a local wooded area, where we mainly sat around doing nothing. Guys frequently missed drils, or left early saying they would make up the missed time by coming into the armory during the week. This of course never happened.

To say that President Bush might have skated through his Guard service takes no major stretch of the imagination. The National Guard has a long history of this type of behavior. Guard units called up for all of our nation’s wars are never capable of being sent into combat. Instead years of training are required to bring them to a point where they can fight and survive on a battlefield.

This is no longer the case from what I’ve heard from friends still in the service. When a unit faces being called up on a regular basis such silliness has to be stopped or people will die.

In the end I could not take the poor level of moral and training offered by my last unit. Using the excuse that my reporter’s job demanded to many weekends, I decided to leave the Guard temporarily. I fully intended to rejoin and in 1996 attempted to get back in. Unfortunately, I had developed asthma while I was out and the doctor at Ft. Hamilton in NY said a new army rule forbade asthmatics from joining up. However, if I had never left I would have been allowed to keep serving because the asthma is easily controlled.

Now I have to live with the guilt of seeing a friend go off to combat, leaving behind a young son and pregnant wife. I’m not sure if the president feels the same as I do, but I hope so.


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