The Iowa National Guard’s adjutant general today (Monday) honored his soldiers and told lawmakers the Guard now faces the challenge of replacing equipment left on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Major General Ron Dardis delivered his annual “State of the Guard” message to Iowa lawmakers earlier this afternoon and gave special recognition to two soldiers who’d been wounded and are now back in Iowa. The 150 members of the Iowa Legislature stood and applauded Specialist Michael Johnson of Red Oak and Sergeant Kenneth Lukes of Protivin. Both have received Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars for the actions in Afghanistan. “They represent bravery, heroism, and valor above and beyond the call of duty,” Dardis says. “They’re great patriots, for sure.” Dardis also recognized Jerry Wheatley of Des Moines, a soldier who just returned Saturday from his second tour of duty in Iraq. Thirty soldiers with Iowa ties have died in the war on terror. “A special tribute today to the families of the 30 young men who have given their lives in defense of freedom. These families lives are forever changed…the void left in their hearts by their loss must at times seem impossible to fill,” Dardis says. “My profound hope is that they sense the love and support of so many and they realize our eternal gratitude for the price price that they have paid.” Dardis says 16-hundred Iowa soldiers and airmen are on active duty in the war on terror. About one-hundred soldiers are preparing for overseas deployment. About 17 percent of the Iowa Guard is deployed today. Dardis says an “unprecedented” number of Iowa Guardsmen and woman have been called to active duty since September 11th, 2001. At one time, 80 percent of Iowa Guard members were on active duty and more Iowa Guard troops have been deployed in the past three and a half years than were deployed during World War II. “Simply put, Iowa is one of the most combat ready states in the nation,” Dardis says. “We have quality men and women who get the job done.” Dardis says they have left equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan and replacement and repair of that equipment is a “paramount” concern for him. “We understand that this is a long and protracted war on terror and we will be involved for some time to come.” Dardis thanked his “commander in chief” — Governor Tom Vilsack — for his support of the Guard, for attending send-off and welcome home ceremonies for activated soldiers, and for talking with the families of troops who are not coming home. “Governor Vilsack always makes that first and most difficult call,” Dardis says. “Miss Iowa” saluted the troops by singing a patriotic tune just before Dardis spoke.Dardis oversees 96-hundred Army and Air Guard members that serve in 105 Guard units throughout the state. The Iowa Guard was number one in the country last month in recruiting.
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