Iowa National Guard prepares for peace

Soldiers should see fewer, shorter deployments

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CAMP DODGE — Changes are in store for the Iowa National Guard as relative peace replaces more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The tempo will slow to a pace not seen for the past 12 years,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Orr, the Iowa Guard’s adjutant general.

For Guard members and their families, the most obvious anticipated change will be fewer, smaller, shorter and less dangerous deployments, he said.

The Guard will, however, “remain an operational force, trained and ready to resume combat roles when called upon,” Orr said.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Orr said the Guard changed suddenly from a strategic reserve to an operational force, with a beefed-up budget to fund more intense, combat-specific training and upgraded equipment. For the foreseeable future, he said, the Guard will make do with much less funding.

“The world can change on short notice, and the Army realizes we are probably going to be called on again, but for now we are maintaining our relevance through training and preparation,” said Col. Ben Corell, who commanded the 2nd Brigade Combat Team during the Guard’s recent Afghanistan deployment.

The challenge, he said, is maintaining readiness in a peacetime environment.

“It’s hard to duplicate the focus and intensity that soldiers have when they know they are going to war,” said Corell, a Strawberry Point native who has been deployed to combat zones four times in the past 10 years.

The extent of the forthcoming budget cuts “remains to be seen and will depend on the strategic environment around the world,” Iowa Guard spokesman Col. Greg Hapgood said.

Maintaining numbers

The Guard’s shrunken budget will not, however, result in a substantial reduction in force, he said.

Hapgood said a high percentage of Iowa Guard troops served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“During that time we’ve lost 22 members in combat operations, which includes deaths from wounds, accidents and illnesses,” Hapgood said.

The Iowa Guard’s most recent deployment — about 40 soldiers in the 186th Military Police Company sent off Dec. 2 for service in Honduras — will be typical of most deployments in the immediate future, Hapgood said. Their mission will be disaster relief, humanitarian aid, strengthening a regional ally and countering transnational crime.

A major casualty of the downsizing will be the Iowa Air National Guard’s detachment of 21 F-16 aircraft, which will be moved from Des Moines under provisions of a federal defense bill recently approved by Congress.

Orr said about 32 Iowa Guard positions are expected to be eliminated when the 132nd Fighter Wing is replaced in Des Moines by three smaller units, including one that will remotely fly unmanned aircraft and another that will analyze the data collected.

Training simulators

Hapgood said the Guard is reducing its training expenses by taking advantage of combat simulators.

The Iowa Guard uses the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, an elaborate $1.4 million computer system, for marksmanship training and combat scenarios including shoot/don’t shoot situations.

“The sound, recoil, shape and heft of the weapon — everything is realistic except the bullets,” said Staff Sgt. Beaumont Pierson, who manages the EST 2000 at Camp Dodge, the Iowa Guard’s headquarters in Johnston.

Using the EST 2000, “a whole battalion can accomplish its weapons training goals in a single weekend,” said Pierson of Remsen.

Capt. Kent Greiner said the Iowa Guard’s eight EST 2000 units save both time and money, compressing training sessions, reducing transportation expenses and eliminating the cost of ammunition.

“It gets troops on target much faster and expedites diagnosis of shooting problems,” said Greiner, a company commander with the Guard’s 168th Infantry Regiment.

The system accommodates every weapon typically used by an Army platoon, from pistols and rifles to machine guns and grenade launchers.

The Guard’s training also includes equipment that simulates rollovers with two common Army vehicles — the Humvee and the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) vehicle.

Soldiers in combat need to understand how to safely exit a wrecked vehicle and how to defend themselves when they do, said Greiner, whose company experienced two MRAP rollovers while serving in Afghanistan last year.

“You can’t be wrecking Humvees for training,” said Greiner, a Dike native who served with the Guard’s 1-133rd Iron Man Battalion in its marathon Iraq deployment in 2006 and 2007.

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