South Dakota National Guard
PIERRE, S.D. – On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the nation with words that would ultimately impact the lives of many Soldiers and Airmen within the South Dakota National Guard.
“My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger,” Bush said.
Since that address to the nation, 20 communities and more than 3,360 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen throughout South Dakota have experienced a unit mobilization in support of either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn.
The U.S. military and coalition forces have now withdrawn from Iraq, however, some units who have deployed to Iraq within the last year still remain in the Middle East, occupying a presence in Kuwait.
Two of those units include the South Dakota Army National Guard’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment and the 139th Brigade Support Battalion, both of which moved to Kuwait from Iraq during the withdrawal process and now are conducting follow-on missions of retrograde operations, including the transfer of personnel and equipment from the Iraq theater back to the Unites States.
“It’s a good feeling for us to be finally out of Iraq,” said Army Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard. “This war has gone on a long time.”
The Iraq war is the second longest war in American history. It’s also said to have changed the National Guard from a strategic reserve to an operational force.
“We went from an ‘on the bench’ component during the Vietnam and Cold War eras, to one that has served in combat zones continually for the past decade,” Reisch said. “There are few, if any instances during our 150-year history that the South Dakota National Guard has been relied upon to the extent that it has been during the period since 9/11.”
Virtually every unit deployed from the South Dakota National Guard has received the meritorious unit commendation award, Reisch said.
The award is given to units for exceptionally meritorious conduct in performance of outstanding services for at least six continuous months during the period of military operations against an armed enemy.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen are of truly the highest caliber,” Reisch said. “The tremendous legacy of the South Dakota National Guard has been elevated even higher during this period of time.”
While more than 3,360 Soldier and Airmen and their family members made significant sacrifices in the Iraq War, seven South Dakota Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives while serving in Iraq.
“We have had enormous sacrifices from our South Dakota National Guard Soldiers,” said Army Lt. Col. Lynn Wilson, full-time support chaplain for the South Dakota National Guard. “I have gone to homes as a casualty notification officer and have gone to families to bring the news that their loved one, their son, their Soldier, is now dead, and that news is absolutely devastating. So is the cost of war; it is always severe, it’s always great.”
Wilson deployed to Iraq in 2004 with 2nd Battalion, 147th Field Artillery as a chaplain, where he not only experienced the devastation and cost of war but also witnessed the positive effects.
“I think of the accomplishments as well as the loss, and the losses are terrible and severe,” Wilson said. “I don’t think you ever get over it. It is still a scar and it is deep, but then there are the accomplishments that we gave to a country.”
Wilson recalls a moment when he felt that the war in Iraq was worth it.
“I went to Babylon to one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, one that his sons used to love to operate out of,” Wilson said. “They would take teenage girls and rape them, murder them and toss their bodies down the Euphrates River. We stopped that…that didn’t go on after we were there.”
During Wilson’s time overseas, he also witnessed a defying moment in Iraq’s history. For the first time they had more than one option on their election ballot.
“In January of 2005, about a month before we returned home, for the first time people had the freedom to vote and there is not just one name on the ballot: Saddam Hussein,” Wilson said.
“The people of Iraq held up their ink-stained purple fingers and some of us Soldiers looked at each other and said ‘that’s why we are here.”