By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
(12/8/09) - The National Guard is poised to make unique contributions in Afghanistan and continue operations in Iraq, the National Guard deputy commander of U.S. Army Forces Command said here Dec. 7. “The Army will include the National Guard and the Reserve in future mobilization requirements,” Army Maj. Gen. Ron Chastain said during a working visit to the Army National Guard Readiness Center. “We will not go back to the strategic reserve that we had before 9/11.”
While Chastain could not discuss specifics, he said some National Guard units are likely to be re-tasked or change missions following the president’s announcement last week about an Afghan troop surge.
“If we have a unit that just got to Iraq and they’re no longer needed, it’s not right to those Soldiers to just send them home and de-mob them,” he said. “If there’s a need at that time for them to go to Afghanistan, [then] that is one of the options.”
The National Guard offers some unique capabilities that make it likely to be included in the surge. Examples include the Agribusiness Development Teams and the use, in particular, of National Guard military police in Embedded Training Teams, because in both cases Soldiers bring civilian-acquired skills unique to the Guard.
“The Army National Guard is ideally suited to move in to an area that has been cleared and start the process after it’s cleared before the civilian agencies come in,” he said. “The civilian skills that our Guardsmen have are well-suited to dealing with Afghan civilians.”
Chastain also predicted a continued role for the National Guard in Iraq. “The nation-building will continue in Iraq far beyond the combat operations,” he said. “Nation-building is not a military task. The National Guard is well-suited for that transition from combat operations to nation-building.”
Chastain, who deployed as a unit commander for Desert Storm and then again for Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he has experienced the “extremes of mobilization.”
His 80-person rear area operations center for Desert Storm spent a whopping five days at the mobilization station for personnel processing, repainting vehicles to a desert hue and loading them on a train, and training that focused on weapons familiarization and qualification and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons tasks.
The 39th Brigade Combat Team from the Arkansas National Guard, which he led in 2003, spent three months mobilizing at Fort Hood, Texas, before going to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., for a mobilization exercise.
Frustrations included the length of time it took to accomplish weapons qualification and Soldiers having to repeat training events because mobilization station documentation was improper, he said.
“I’m real thankful that the mobilization process has improved a lot since that,” Chastain said. “I’m very pleased with most all the things that go on at the mobilization stations right now.”
Keys to successful mobilization include early notification of units and early alert, he said.
Chastain, who is a former adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, said the relationship between the National Guard, Reserve and active components is at a high point.
“It’s the best right now that I’ve seen throughout my career,” he said. “We’ve had brigade combat teams doing full-spectrum operations right alongside their active counterparts. We’ve got people in the upper echelon of our Army now that have witnessed that firsthand, and they have spread the word.”