Orr: Iowa National Guard in 'high operations tempo'

The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — Challenges at home and abroad are forcing the Iowa National Guard to “adapt and change” its mission to fight America’s wars, secure the homeland and build lasting partnership around the world, according to Iowa Adjutant General Timothy Orr.

“As we look around the globe, the international situation today is the most complex and demanding that I have seen in my 39 years of service,” Orr said in delivering his Condition of the Guard address to Gov. Kim Reynolds, top state officials and a joint session of the Iowa General Assembly on Thursday.

Orr said natural disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, coupled with major cyberattacks and the smallest military since before World War II, have tested the ability of the Iowa Guard and nation to fulfill global commitments “during an era of uncertainty and persistent conflict.”

Currently, about 800 Iowa Guard soldiers and airmen are mobilized for combat operations around the globe, he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 19,000 Iowa National Guard members serving on active duty to support the nation, he noted.

“With the level of global uncertainty today, the velocity of instability and potential for significant conflict around the world, we are now at a point where current and projected demands for our assets around the globe to support the warfare will remain at a high operations tempo,” Orr said.

For the most part, he said, 2017 was a “relatively quiet year” for emergency response operations in Iowa, but the Guard deployed helicopters, aircrews and security forces as part of emergency management assistance compacts when hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria inflicted damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, he said.

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Another important response was in the area of counter-drug programs and training, especially to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic, he said.

Orr noted the Guard trained 340 law enforcement officers across Iowa how to properly administer the antidote for opioid overdoses, and counter-drug specialists seized more than $43 million in drugs and $3 million in cash and assets from drug dealers in Iowa.

Orr also touted the Guard’s economic benefits for the state, noting that military, law enforcement and civilian visitors to the Camp Dodge training installation near Johnston pumped more than $100 million of discretionary spending into central Iowa last year.

As a volunteer organization, Orr said recruitment efforts remain a priority, with a growing concern that a large percentage of U.S. military members who come from the same families — “effectively creating a class in our society that is carrying the burden for the remainder of our citizens.”

“With only three out of ten 17- to 24-year-olds eligible today for military service due to various reasons,” he said, “there’s significant concern among civilian and military leaders about the future of our military and the readiness of our force to defend this nation in years ahead.”

One change that has helped in that regard, he said, was a Department of Defense revision in 2016 that opened all military positions — including more than 1,700 in the Iowa National Guard — to women for the first time in U.S. history.

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