The now-retired head of the Iowa National Guard delivered his sixth and final “Condition of the Guard Address” this morning at the statehouse.

Major General Ron Dardis said the Iowa Guard had been strengthened by war and disaster response. “I can report that the Iowa National Guard is as resilient and (as) ready as it has ever been,” Dardis said.

Dardis called the men and women in the Iowa Guard the “most seasoned and prepared military force our state has seen” since the World War II era.  In the past seven years 13,000 Iowa Guard members have been deployed outside the state, including tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Suicide rates among combat veterans have been climbing and Dardis told legislators the Guard has begun a suicide prevention program because the Guard is “not immune” and has seen an increase in suicides and suicide attempts this past year. “And like all leaders, I’m troubled by this issue. There is no clear trend or cause that is readily apparent. There is nothing that we can point to and say, ‘If only you fix this or change that, that we can prevent it,'” Dardis said. “The reality is this: it is a very complex and challenging issue. It is not only an Army or military issue, but one that we must all deal with.”

To help soldiers cope, Dardis said the Iowa Guard has developed a “broad” suicide prevention program and during the next four months all military units — both the full-time military and the part-time Guard and Reserve — have been directed to speak openly about the warning signs that may lead to suicide.

Last week, Governor Culver appointed Dardis executive director of the Rebuild Iowa Office. Dardis spent part of his speech recounting the Guard’s response to the flooding that struck Iowa last June. Dardis said Iowa Guard soldiers were “smack dab in the middle of the (immediate) response” to the flooding, a deployment Dardis described as the “most extensive military operation on Iowa soil since the Civil War.”

“…But above all, I want to thank the people of Iowa,” Dardis said to open his speech.  “Their support is simply put incredible. What they did for our soldiers and airmen as they waged a gallant effort to mitigate damages caused by floodwaters and tornados is a true testament to the wonderful community support we are so privileged to enjoy throughout the state. Even though their communities had been ravaged by record floodwaters, citizens made sure our soldiers and airmen were being taken care of. You wouldn’t believe the food and baked goods that showed up wherever we went.”

You can read the general’s speech here.

Click on the audio link below to listen to the half-hour-long speech.

AUDIO: Dardis speech (mp3 runs 42 min)