The leader of the Iowa National Guard says the Guard is "quite possibly the strongest" it’s been in generations. Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Ron Dardis delivered the annual "Condition of the Guard" address ( Download PDF ) this morning at the statehouse. Dardis told lawmakers the Iowa Guard is setting recruiting records, but Dardis warned soldiers are worried the public’s support for the military may wane as the war continues.

"Our soldiers and airmen are proud of their heritage, they’re proud of their service and their performance in the global war on terror and they’re proud to be part of America’s national defense team," Dardis said. "Simply put, the soldiers and airmen of the Iowa National Guard are strong." Dardis himself raised concerns about the Pentagon’s decision to call a group of Ottumwa-based soldiers to active duty again.

The soldiers in the unit, specialists in finding and disabling so-called IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices, were in Iraq from October, 2004 to December of 2005. "The recent alert of the 833rd Engineering Company from Ottumwa last week is clearly a break in the Department of Defense’s mobilization policy goal," Dardis said. "The soldiers from this company have been home less than 14 months and are now preparing for another deployment…I know these soldiers will serve honorably and with distinction, just like they did before. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who must now prepare for another separation."

Dardis suggested the Pentagon needs to come through with additional benefit packages for the soldiers.

Dardis says he and Governor Culver will "carry this issue forward" to make sure "it gets the attention that is necessary." Dardis also acknowledged the Guard faces "equipment challenges" as, for example, one Iowa Guard unit shipped over 15,000 of the Guard’s equipment overseas in 2005. But Dardis says the Guard has all it needs to respond to any disaster that occurs here.

"How can the Iowa National Guard be in such good shape? The answer is simple: its people," Dardis said. "We are blessed with remarkable and talented members who are committed and they believe in what they are doing, who are supported from understanding families and employers and communities, and who benefit greatly from the benefits and incentives provided by the state and nation." Dardis thanked legislators for increasing the amount of college scholarship money for Guard members, and for adding more funds to the program which provides first-time homebuyer grants to soldiers coming back from active duty.

Dardis also thanked Governor Chet Culver for ordering, just after he took office in January, that flags be flown at half-staff on the day of funerals for Iowa soldiers who are killed on active duty. Dardis began his speech with a moment of silence for the latest Iowa soldier to die in the war.