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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

July 15, 2003

The National Guard:› Always Ready, But Over There

Our National Guard and the Reserves of each of our military services has become more than a source of manpower during times of national crisis.› Members of the reserve components have become an indispensable tool to carry out military operations and homeland security missions.›

As of last week, there were 204,100 Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty.› Some are stationed within the United States, performing homeland security missions.› Many are deployed overseas, to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.› Since September 11, 2001, we have activated› more Guard and Reserve personnel than at any time since the Korean War.

But countless reservists -- especially those who are now serving in Iraq -- have not even been told when their deployment will end.› Nobody knows when they will return home.› Adding to the uncertainty, some reserve units that are now being activated are simply being told to prepare to deploy for one to two years.›

This is no way to treat our National Guard and Reserve forces!› Are we keeping our citizen-soldiers away from their jobs and their homes for too long?

There are a growing number of West Virginians who say, yes.› My office has received an increasing number of letters, calls, and e-mails from West Virginians asking when their loved ones who serve in the reserve components will be coming home.› Some of the reports in these communications are very alarming.

All of these letters express a deep frustration with the length of deployment of National Guard and Reserve units.› A number of troops and their families have expressed desperation at trying to get any sort of information about when their units will be returning to the United States.› After reviewing what some of these units have gone through, I can see why people are frustrated and desperate.

Let's take the case of one engineering unit from West Virginia.› After shipping out in January 2003, this unit advanced deep into Iraq along with front-line fighting forces.› During the war, they bridged a river under heavy Iraqi fire.› I have several reports that members of this unit are able to call home only once every several weeks, and that now they are only helping to haul Iraqi ammunition.› This unit has not been given a date to return to the United States, and rumors are now circling that they will remain in Iraq until January 2004.››

Another National Guard unit has struggled through back-to-back-to-back deployments.› This unit was mobilized for state duty in response to flooding in West Virginia in the summer of 2001.› After September 11, this unit spent one year in federal duty performing homeland security missions.› After three month's rest, the unit was again called to duty, and this time sent to the Persian Gulf region in February 2003, where they remain to this day.› There has been no word on when this unit will return home.

One of my constituents wrote about her husband, who was deployed to the Persian Gulf in December 2002, and told that he would return as soon as the war was over.› After the President made his visit to the aircraft carrier and gave his speech under the giant banner which read, "Mission Accomplished," this reservist still had not been sent home.› In fact, he was given five different dates to return to West Virginia, and then sent to another country in the region with the possibility of extending his deployment to September.› To add insult to injury, this reservist had to pay for his own food and lodging while he was awaiting new orders after the war!

These stories should not come as a complete surprise to my colleagues.› I am sure that every Senator has been receiving mail with similar reports of deployments with no end, unclear missions, shortages in supplies, and countless other problems.

I have read about similar problems in the newspaper for members of the active duty forces.› This morning, there is an article in the Los Angeles Times about another delay in the homecoming of the war-weary 3rd Infantry Division.› Less than a week after Secretary Rumsfeld announced to the Armed Services Committee that the this division would be home by September, 10,000 of these soldiers have now been told to prepare to stay in Iraq indefinitely.

These troops ought to have the chance to come home, too. But there are two reasons why I am particularly concerned about the long deployments of the Guard and Reserve.

First, the National Guard has important responsibilities to their states.› Right now, West Virginia has all of its Guard and Reserve engineer units deployed overseas, along with all of their earth movers, dump trucks, and equipment.› If summer storms cause more flooding and mudslides in West Virginia, who is Governor Wise going to go to for help?› The engineers of the West Virginia National Guard can't answer the call from the hot sands of Iraq.› My state would either have to rely on expensive contractors to recover from the storms, or wait two to three days for National Guard units from neighboring states to respond.› West Virginians need our National Guard in West Virginia.

Second, members of the Guard and Reserve are part-time soldiers.› They are proud to serve their country, but they did not sign up to serve full-time duty.› We must exercise greater discretion when mobilizing the reserves, just as we did decades ago.› According to the Congressional Research Service, from 1945 to 1989, there were only four involuntary call-ups of reserve forces.› Since then, there have been six involuntary deployments.› It is unreasonable to dip into the Guard and Reserves so frequently, pull these men and women away from their civilian careers and their families, and expect them to serve overseas with no indication of when their mission will end.›

There are serious effects from protracted deployments of the National Guard and the Reserves.› Growing frustration among members of the Guard and Reserves mean that many troops may finally elect to take their hard-earned retirement.› Many junior personnel are likely to decide that they do not want to put their families through months or years of hardship again, and they will choose not to re-enlist once their duty has been completed. As we speak, unit commanders are bracing for a heavy loss of personnel once the deployed units are rotated home.›

The time has come for Congress to say, enough is enough.› Let us put an end to open-ended and back-to-back deployments of the National Guard and Reserves. Our part-time troops need to get back to their home, their families, and their full-time jobs.›

That is why I offer an amendment to limit the involuntary deployment of National Guard and Reserve personnel to six months for any single overseas deployment, and not more than one deployment in any 12 month period.

When we send the National Guard to peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, they are overseas for six months.› Why should we ask our reservists to serve longer in Iraq or Afghanistan?› Why should we ask our reservists to put up with back-to-back deployments?

Secretary Rumsfeld announced this week that he is seeking long-term changes to reduce dependence on the involuntary mobilization of the National Guard and the Reserves to not more than one year out of every six years.› This is a commendable action, and we need to take a look at the long-term structure of our armed forces.

But Secretary Rumsfeld's proposed changes do nothing to address the problems that our reservists and their families are facing today.› My amendment will make an immediate impact on the problem of open-ended deployments of the National Guard and the Reserves.› My amendment will make the Defense Department tell our reservists when they will be coming home, because no funds in this bill may be spent to keep a Guard or Reserve unit overseas for more than 6 months.

We need to start rotating our reserve forces back home.› Right now, there are 204,100 reserve personnel who are not at their civilian jobs.› These absences are leaving huge gaps in private businesses and essential government services.›

In West Virginia, ten percent of the state police have been called to active duty.› Countless employers across the country are working short-handed, waiting for the day that one of their employees will return home from their service to our country.› Families are struggling to make up the income lost by having a provider receive modest paychecks from the Pentagon, as opposed to the good pay of civilian careers, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or even plumbers.

One can only wonder how much the endless cycles of deployments has affected our economy over the last two years.› But it is clear, we need these part-time members of the military back in our communities.

My amendment would allow us to tell the members of the National Guard and the Reserves that they will return within six months of being sent overseas.› Congress should act in order to provide a measure of stability to the deployments that our reservists are facing. We should give the same measure of stability to their families and their employers.›

I urge my colleagues to support the amendment.

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