An Iowa National Guard commander leading about six-hundred-50 soldiers on a mission in western Iraq says the group’s active duty status hasn’t depressed retention efforts. Lieuteant Colonel Ben Corell says 70 of the soldiers have already “raised their hand” and extended their length of service in the Guard. “That’s a big statement right there,” Corell says. “…I’d say that’s a big accomplishment.”
Soldiers who sign up for another three- or six-year term with the Guard while they are on active duty get paid a bonus. Those who “re-up” for six years, for example, get a 15-thousand dollar bonus. The commander says to have that rate of re-signing shows he has “quality people” serving in his unit and illustrates that the Iowa Guard must be “taking care” of its own or else the soldiers wouldn’t have extended their time in the Guard. The Iowa National Guard’s retention rate is among the highest in the country. Corell, who is from Strawberry Point, commands the First Battalion, one-33rd Infantry which includes soldiers from Guard units in Waterloo, Dubuque, Oelwein, Iowa Falls and Charles City.
The group arrived in Iraq in April and in May starting providing the security escorts to convoys shipping supplies like food, fuel and water throughout the western part of Iraq. “We’ve conducted about 120 combat-logistical-security patrols. We’ve escorted 23,650 gallons of JP8 (jet fuel). We’ve escorted 1,628,000 gallons of diesel fuel,” Corell says. “We’ve driven over 30,000 miles.” Corell’s most proud of his unit’s safety record. The troops face not only risk from an often-unseen enemy, but the risk of navigating miltiary vehicles on roads that may not have been designed for such traffic.
Corell says there’s also the local traffic in Iraq to deal with. His unit is due to serve in Iraq for about a year, heading back to Iowa in mid-2007.