National Guard and Other Military Branches Strained -- Arkansas Numbers OK

MARCH 3, 2004 -- Posted at 10:30pm

JONESBORO, AR - The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over-stressing the military, and some fear that could jeopardize protection back home. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators in February that he was going to use emergency powers to expand our forces by 33,000 or more if needed. Rumsfeld insists this increase is temporary. It may be tough for recruiters to meet that goal, because some are already struggling, and those National Guard soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are being told they'll have to stay longer.

"It really upset me," said one soldier. "My morale was pretty high, but now it's at the bottom."

Another said, "It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but you take it as it comes, I guess. There's nothing you can do about it."

There are about 10,500 soldiers and airmen in the Arkansas National Guard, and up to 4,500 of them were deployed at one time. In fact at one point, Arkansas was one of the top 3 states contributing to the battle against terror according to the percent of troops deployed.

About 25% of the nation's Air and Army National Guard troops are deployed for federal duty. Now National Guard leaders are working to balance out the number of troops sent from each state for future deployments, so that enough soldiers are available at home in case an of emergency. 3,800 of them from Arkansas are currently serving out orders, including those in the 39th Infantry Brigade. The unit left February 28th for Iraq.

Senator John McCain explained to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, "It's clear to me that we need additional troops."

Recruiters are struggling to keep up with the current number of new soldiers needed to enter the military. So some senators are proposing legislation that would boost the permanent Army force by 30,000 troops, in hopes of easing some of the stress on the National Guard. Many of the family members of National Guard soldiers and airmen are expected to support that proposed legislation, and some believe their opinions could shape Congress' reaction.

It's a tough situation for Guard members. They're being told they can't retire, because they have orders to stay on active duty, while their loved ones are pressuring them to get out.

As for Arkansas' readiness if an emergency occurred, Captain Christine Munn, public affairs officer of the Arkansas National Guard, said there are enough troops to take care of it.