by David Kerley, ABC News
While the President announced his plan to send more troops to Iraq, National Guardsmen and reservists learned that the rules about how often they can be sent to war are changing. The bottom line: They may be sent to war more often but for shorter tours.
Pentagon policy is to give Guardsmen five years off after a deployment. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he may not stick to that policy. "Today's global demands will require a number of selected Guard and reserve units to be remobilized sooner," Gates told a White House news conference.
A Pentagon spokesman went further. "The goal (five years between deployments) will not be met. ... It's a temporary situation," said Bryan Whitman. To soften the blow of being sent to war more often, the Pentagon announced two other changes. First, rather than being called up to duty for as long as two years, Guardsmen and reservists will be activated for only one year. And if they are called up before their five years between deployments, they will get extra pay.
If the president's combat troop increase of 40 percent in Iraq lasts for a sustained period of time, Guard and reserve combat units will be recalled. And when will those call-ups begin? A senior military official said late Thursday that "by this time next year we will probably be calling on" Guard and reserve units.
But the National Guard got a lot of what it wanted in the announcement. It was calling for shorter tours, and that Guardsmen be mobilized as units rather than individuals. The president of the National Guard Association, retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Koper, said on first blush it looks as if "they did a pretty good job." But Koper worries about funding details and the strain the changes could place on families.
One of the Guard units has already been told it will be staying in Iraq. They are from Minnesota, and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is not happy. In a statement, Pawlenty said he was "extremely disappointed and frustrated" and calls the president's decision "unfair to them and their families."