Returning Guardsmen Plan to Stay Put
Sgt. Nate Gorin served tours with the Army in Afghanistan and then with the California National Guard in Iraq. Returning home Thursday to a boisterous, patriotic welcome at the Petaluma National Guard Armory, Gorin, 23, said he planned to leave military service and pursue environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. “No, I’m not going to reenlist,” Gorin said emphatically. “I think I’ve done enough.”
Spc. Chris Murphy, 22, a Lake County rock musician, said not even the $15,000 bonus being offered for reenlistment is enough to entice him to sign up again. “There is no amount of money they can give me to stay in,” Murphy said. “I was active for two years and I signed up with the Guard to go to college. I was in for 5 1/2 years, and I only finished three semesters of school. I don’t want to get pulled out again.”
As thousands of troops across the country return from the first extended National Guard overseas combat role since the Korean War, officials are watching reenlistments wane despite bonuses and other incentives recently authorized by Congress. Soldiers such as Gorin and Murphy who joined the National Guard to help pay for their education say they are dissuaded by the prospect of additional duty in war zones.
Presiding over the Petaluma welcome home ceremony Thursday, California National Guard commander Brig. Gen. James Combs estimated that at least a quarter of Alpha Company will not rejoin the Guard when their enlistments expire. Combs said the dropout rate, while higher than it is in peacetime, is still less than the 35% or more officials had feared.
The evidence in this report is almost entirely anecdotal. Still, it was entirely predictable. For decades, joining the National Guard meant playing military a few days a year in exchange for some decent pay and benefits. In the last decade plus, though, we’ve had a smaller Active force and a much higher OPSTEMPO. As a result, Guard and Reserve personnel, especially those in a few critical specialties, have been deployed on a routine basis.
Many Active soldiers note that these people took the money for years and are now whining about having to actually do the jobs they’ve signed up for. There’s something to that. I’ve got less sympathy for reservists now than I did in the 1990s, since we’re actually at war now rather than doing entirely optional peacekeeping missions. Fighting our nation’s wars is what soldiers do, including reservists. Still, they didn’t sign up for full-time service. In an environment where units rotate out of battle rather than staying, as was customary in World War II and Korea, for the duration, multiple tours seems unreasonable.
That said, a dropout rate of 25% — or even 35% — is hardly a crisis. We expect more than that from our Active Duty force.