The Iowa National Guard will send 2,800 soldiers to Afghanistan this fall and that deployment could make it difficult to respond to disasters here at home. To increase the number of boots on the ground, the Iowa Guard is now recruiting retired service men and women to serve as its eyes and ears in local communities.
Major Russ Bossard says that’s one of the reasons they’re now recruiting retired members to serve as emergency awareness contacts during disasters. “With deploying such a large number of soldiers it reduces our capabilities,” Brossard says, “one of our challenges dealing with domestic operations is getting an accurate picture of exactly what’s happening out in the communities and seeing what their needs are and where we can plug the holes and support that community in their time of need.”
Under the so-called GE-SAC program, trained retirees will serve as liaisons in their home counties; responding quickly to local disasters to assess if and how the guard should respond. GE-SAC is modeled after the Scout program in Kansas. First Sergeant Randy Rice is the joint operations supervisor for Kansas National Guard. He says while the retired scouts cannot officially deploy forces or equipment, their recommendations have saved the guard time and money.
“Let me give you an example, we had somebody call in and said a tornado was going through their town and it was two miles wide and had been on the ground x-amount of minutes. Well…when that person is down in their basement all huddled down it may seem like it’s all that big you know but when the scout got there it wasn’t anything like what the person had described,” Rice says.
Sergeant Rice says after 15 years they now have more than 400 retirees serving as scouts in Kansas. And while they only get paid if activated during a disaster, he predicts Iowa will have no trouble with recruiting. And so far he’s right. Retired First Sergeant Dick Fullerton volunteered immediately and has been tapped by the Iowa National Guard to manage the GE-SAC program.
“The guard was such a part of our lives for many, many, many years and you enjoy serving, you enjoy being part of, and when you retire it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not capable of being useful anymore,” Fullerton explains, “And it’s nice to be able to be useful in an area that we can help both the guard and the state at a time when they need it.”
The guard has trained 53 retires so far and hopes to have recruited 200 by next summer, two from every county. And while the new program may not be at full strength until then, Polk County Emergency management coordinator A-J Mumm says it’s still a welcome addition during the Afghanistan deployment. He says with nearly three thousand soldiers overseas, communication between the guard and local communities must be better than ever.