April 28, 2004
The use of Guard and Reserve troops for a war of occupation demonstrates the failure of U.S. policy in Iraq.
Approximately 40 percent of the 110,000 troops in Iraq are members of the National Guard or Reserves, the Associated Press reports. Students, plumbers, stockbrokers, salespeople and police officers have been part of the largest troop rotation since World War II.
In the one year since the United States invaded Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom has taken the lives of thousands of Iraqis and more than 700 U.S. servicemembers, including a disproportionately high number of Guard members and reservists.
Lured by the promise of money for college, career opportunities and part-time service while maintaining a full-time civilian life, they are "weekend warriors." But as The Guardian quoted Guard Col. Rick Phillips on March 1, they are also "bullet magnets."
Many of these mobilized troops have never before left the United States. In Iraq, they find a different climate, different culture and deep resentment at an occupying force that has been unable to provide security for the average Iraqi.
National Guard and Reserve units tend to be older than their active-duty counterparts and are more likely to be married and have children. Many also have mortgages, education loans and health-insurance premiums that can be impossible to pay without their civilian salary, which is often much higher than a full-time military salary.
Among active-duty enlisted troops in the Army, 6 percent are 40 years of age or older. But in the Army Reserve, the figure is 21 percent, and in the National Guard it is 22 percent, according to a Feb. 10 article in the L.A. Times. More than half have prior military experience, though not necessarily in combat. And for many, their training days are long past. Both the Guard and Reserves, but especially Guard members, receive far less combat training than active-duty units.
Seth Dvorin had been married less than six months when he died at age 24 in February.
Analaura Esparza Gutierrez, 21, joined the Army to earn money for college. Instead she perished in Tikrit this fall when her convoy was ambushed with rocket-propelled grenades.
For families across the United States who have lost a daughter, a son, a wife or a husband to the war in Iraq, the costs are devastating. Countless other soldiers have lost limbs, eyes and their futures.
As causalities continue to mount, we have to ask questions.
Are we safer because of what we have done?
Is the United States perceived around the world as a leader or a bully?
Our commander in chief said "bring 'em on," and now young American men and women are dying at a record pace. We need to bring this to a halt.
Oskar Castro coordinates the American Friends Service Committee National Youth and Militarism Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.