Leader Blues

Monday, February 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Guard all set for any orders

IN SHORT: No alert has been issued yet for the 39th Combat Brigade to be deployed once again to Iraq, although the group is ready.

Leader staff writer

Despite an article this week in the New York Times, the Arkansas National Guard is not yet on alert for deployment to Iraq, according to Capt. Christopher Heathscott, a spokesman for the 39th Combat Brigade team, and any shortcomings in current inventories of weapons and equipment would be rectified before the brigade deploys, if it is called.

Guardsmen from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana and Ohio were the first deployed in 2003, and when more guardsmen are needed to help support the troop surge, beginning as early as January, many believe it may again be their turn to go, Heathscott said, but no deployment alert has been issued.

“The 39th has not been alerted and there are too many variables involved to even speculate on a time line,” he said. “What we know at this point is that we’re directed to change to a training focus and prepare for a potential mobilization.”
He said the deployment model has changed from “alert, train, deploy” to “train, alert, deploy.”

That way troops can be ready to go more quickly when called. “We train our soldiers every day as if we’re going to war tomorrow,” said Brigade Commander Col. Mike Ross.

Heathscott was quoted in the Times as saying the 3,500-member brigade was about 600 rifles short and needed more mortars and howitzers, but “the Army is not going to send us (to fight) without being fully equipped or trained.”
“In 2004, we were a straight-leg unit (infantry),” Heathscott said. “We converted to a motorized unit and had everything we needed to deploy with.”

While retention and recruiting are concerns, the 39th is in great shape, Heathscott said.
“Right now the 39th is at 98 percent strength,” he said. “We have strong recruiting numbers. The Arkansas Guard as a whole in 2006 had its best recruiting year in the past nine,” he added.

But Heathscott has said the prospects of going to Iraq next year could cause some Arkansas reservists not to re-enlist. Over the next year roughly one-third of the soldiers in the 39th will have their enlistment contracts expire or be eligible for retirement, he said.

There are concerns about reenlistment, he said. Unlike the regular Army, the Guard has no stop loss to keep soldiers from separating from the service. “Those decisions are made in the family,” he said.