More than 12,000 National Guard troops will be heading to Iraq starting in December, the Pentagon announced Monday. It's the latest deployment in what has become the largest National Guard mobilization of its kind since the Vietnam era.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly a quarter-million National Guard troops across the country have been mobilized. The majority of National Guard infantry brigades (roughly 3,000 soldiers each) have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Now, four of those brigades are heading out again.
The units are the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Little Rock, Ark.; the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, from Oklahoma City; the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, from Indianapolis; and the 37th Brigade Combat Team, out of Columbus, Ohio.
Sometime this December, the rotations will begin and continue on into early 2008. The deployments are scheduled to last a year, but judging by earlier Guard rotations, that timeframe will likely be extended.
The Pentagon says the deployments are routine rotations that were previously scheduled. In short, the department says, they have nothing to do with the Bush administration's troop-boost plan for Iraq.
But the latest announcement underscores the shortage of combat manpower in the Army.
The administration wants to maintain at least 160,000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. The total size of the active duty Army is about 500,000. The Pentagon plans to increase the size of the Army by 70,000 over the next 10 years. In the meantime, the Defense Department needs manpower but it doesn't have enough. So the stopgap solution, at least from the Pentagon's perspective, is to use so-called "citizen soldiers" — National Guardsmen and women.
Under Pentagon rules, soldiers in the National Guard can only be deployed once every five years. All four of the units in Monday's announcement have served abroad in the past three years.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry has implied that it's a sneaky back-door draft. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said redeploying National Guard members from his state would be "stretching our citizen soldiers thin."
The National Guard is trained with the purpose of protecting the nation — fighting forest fires and providing hurricane relief, riot control, and search-and-rescue. But close to half of all National Guard troops in the United States have now served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.