Guard fights new battle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Alabama National Guard, one of the largest state guards in the nation, is shrinking.

The primary reason, according to guard spokesman Norman Arnold, is more troops leaving than being replaced.

Guardsman Charles Singleton, who returned in April from a 13 1/2-month tour in Iraq, said the strain could be from several factors, most notably the war against terrorism.

“A lot of the Army Reserves and the Guard come from guys getting out of the military,” he said. “They serve their four years or six years and get out, but they still want to be involved, just not on that full-time basis. So they join the guard.”

He said the army has kept its troops so busy with deployments that those finishing terms are either remaining in the military or getting out for good.

The guard, too, has been busier and Singleton said that is a trend that he believes will continue.

“I think in this day and time, the guard is going to be called on more and more,” he said. “You already have six month deployments going to one year deployments.”

Additionally, he said, of the army’s 10 divisions, eight are committed overseas, leaving the problem of homeland security at home to the local national guard troops.

That is apparently the belief of higher ups as well, as Arnold said those leaving the guard have expressed similar sentiments.

“Guard personnel hanging up their uniforms cite job and family conflicts and frequent deployments as reasons they’re getting out,” he stated in a release. He said the guard has implemented an aggressive program to retain its citizen-soldiers and said he hopes the campaign will strengthen troop numbers in the near future.

There are benefits to joining the guard, Singleton said, aside from the service to one’s country.

“The college expense is probably the number two reason – behind serving your country – that young people get involved,” he said. That was why he joined the guard 13 years ago. And for those who are willing to put in the time, retirement can be another bonus.

“If someone is willing to serve 20 years they will get a pension that is based on their length of service and rank,” he said.

As for the problem of depleting guard units, Singleton suggested improved incentives.

“Maybe with better pay, or benefits, I don’t know the answer. To keep retention up they’re going to have to give more incentives.”