With combat operations in Iraq drawing to a close and the drawdown looming in Afghanistan, it seems that everyone wants to be on the last bus leaving the station. That bus, of course, is our brigade’s upcoming deployment. Problem is, the bus is a short one, and it’s already full – indeed, people are stacked so deep trying to get on this ride, it’s starting to look like a clown car.
Nearly every day, people ask me, “hey, do you guys have any open slots for the deployment?” Maybe I missed it the last few times around, but I don’t remember anyone being this excited for a mobilization until now. During my trip to the war, they managed to piece together one working company out of the whole battalion; now, soldiers are lining up at the door. Different time, different unit, I know, but the comparison is there nonetheless.
The bottom line is that nobody wants to miss what might be the last big deployment for the Red Bulls. Nothing official has been said, but everyone has the same feeling: this one just about wraps it up. Sure, there may be troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come, but the numbers will likely never be like those of years past. That means fewer rotations and less important missions; no more will the Red Bulls be the terror of the Iraqi highways, but rather consigned to the drudgery of base security and “joint visitor’s bureaus” (which I’m sure are just as dreadful as they sound).
No more deployments also means no more easy money. Going to a combat zone is generally profitable for soldiers, what with hostile fire pay, hazardous duty pay, family separation pay, combat zone tax exclusion, and all the other pay (which comes out to about $68,000 a year for an E-6 like me, almost none of which is taxed in any way). With our mission likely headquartered in Kuwait, the mission is basically a one year money-saving tour with virtually no risk for a TOCroach like me – or any of the other strap-hangers trying to get on board.
The end of combat rotations also marks the end of an era. For all but the longest-serving soldiers, the Global War on Terror has been a career-defining event, and for those like me, serving in a wartime context is all we know. The negative impact of the heavy use of the National Guard on units, soldiers, families, and communities has been well documented, but the positives have been less publicized. I’ve written about this before, over four years ago, and the same comments apply today.
The Guard’s role in the GWOT has given the entire force, from Guard Bureau down to the individual soldier, an important sense of belonging to an integrated Army, rather than a weekends-only social club. It has given the Guard an essential sense of pride and provided structure to the career of its soldiers. Most importantly, the GWOT has delivered vast sums of money to state organizations for new equipment, facilities, personnel, and training, bringing the Guard fully up to par with (and sometimes exceeding) their active duty counterparts.
Personally, I would not still be in the Guard if it were not for my trip to Iraq. I wouldn’t have this career, nor would I be the man I am today. Many of my counterparts feel the same way, and maybe they don’t want to miss what might be the last chance to be a part of history, fearing that the Guard may fade into obscurity again, as it did during the 1970’s and 1980’s.