Video: NBC special: Iraq one year later

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/9/2004 3:21:30 PM ET 2004-03-09T20:21:30

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 143,000 National Guard members have been mobilized worldwide.

Tennessee’s top National Guard unit, which hasn’t been called to combat since the Korean War, is getting ready for Iraq. The weekend warriors must go, but what happens after they return home?

The war in Iraq has slammed into most of Tennessee like a tornado, crashing into the lives of over 4,000 National Guard families, jolting employers, surprising the troops.

“A bit excited, but also a bit stunned,” said 19-year-old John Fogerty.

Scenes like this are nationwide. Some say that’s because Pentagon planners didn’t plan so well.

The active-duty Army needs rest. The only option is sending Guard and Reserve troops to replace them, stressing weekend warriors as never before.  Some 46 percent of the 110,000 troops needed in Iraq will be part-time soldiers.

Communities like those around Knoxville are reeling.  According to Lt. Col. Dennis Adams, commander of the 287th Cavalry Regiment, “That’s lots of fathers, dads, foremen, professors, architects, engineers, policemen, coaches. You name it — it’ll be a tremendous gap.”

But the gap the Pentagon is worried about is after tens of thousands of Guard soldiers return home next year. Will many quit?

Right now Guard units are above their quotas.  Some officials say that is because of a poor job market, but a survey done by the Guard, of 5,000 troops, suggests that over 20 percent will not re-up after a year on active duty.

“We are challenged at home because of the wear and tear on our National Guard and our Reserve folks.  We are simply wearing out our people and our military families,” said Adm. Norbert Ryan of the Military Association of America.

Capt. Owen Ray of the Tennessee National Guard won’t quit.  The bank where he works is making up the difference in his salary.  Most of his men are not so lucky. “When all this is said and done, there will be a retention issue that many leaders are going to have to face. They are going to have to rebuild the morale because soldiers will be gone so long.”

And the issue is not just morale, being away from families and jobs.  A quarter of all the Army Guard is now on active duty, which is not what most signed up for.  Most expected to serve at home for disasters and homeland security, training on Saturdays and Sundays and a few weeks in summer, not in an overseas war with no end.

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