Today marks the five year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the head of the Iowa National Guard says the changing role of America’s part-time soldiers has "stretched and stressed" the Iowa Guard.
When the Iowa National Guard’s leader delivered a report to lawmakers a month ago, Major General Ron Dardis noted that Guardsmen and women can no longer expect to be "weekend warriors" but will be deployed for 12 months at least once every four to five years. Dardis acknowledges it’s causing stress. "We see it in the faces of our warriors sent off for their second and in some cases third deployment since 9/11. We see it in our families asked to endure lengthy and in some cases repeated separations and we see it in the faces of our soldiers and airmen struggling to reintegrate with families and routines of their daily lives," Dardis said. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what keeps me awake at night."
After more than six years of war — counting the invasion of Afghanistan — the Iowa Guard has mobilized more than 10,000 soldiers and sent tons of equipment overseas. Yet Dardis considers the Guard to be "strong" — stronger than it’s been in generations. "Our military’s not weak. It’s not hollow. It’s not broken. It remains the preeminent military power in the world and I want you and the citizens of Iowa know that the Iowa National Guard stands ready to meet anticipated state and federal mission requirements," Dardis said. "What we don’t know and what concerns us most is: ‘Where’s the breaking point?’"
While Iowa doesn’t rank among the nation’s largest states, the Iowa Guard is among the largest state units in the country. Two percent of the Guard soldiers in the U.S. are in the Iowa National Guard.
Since September 11th, 20 Iowa National Guard soldiers have been killed while on active duty. A total of 65 soldiers from Iowa or with Iowa ties have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.