In the era of forever wars, recruits who are lured by substantial rewards can sign up for more than they realize, writes Rebecca Gordon.
A young friend is seriously considering joining her state’s National Guard. She’s a world-class athlete, but also a working-class woman from a rural background competing in a rich person’s sport. Between seasons, she works for a local farm and auctioneer to put together the money for equipment and travel.
Each season, raising the necessary money to compete is a touch-and-go proposition, so she’s now talking to the National Guard. If, after basic training, she joins the Army’s World Class Athletes Program as a reservist, her service will essentially consist of competing in her sport. She’ll get an annual salary, health care, college tuition — all to do what she loves and wants to do anyway. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, she could end up fighting in one of this country’s forever wars.
That’s what happened to thousands of National Guard troops and reservists when Washington discovered its all-volunteer forces were woefully inadequate for the project of occupying Iraq after the 2003 invasion. As then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously explained, Washington went to war with the Army it had, “not the Army you might wish you have.” So the National Guard filled in the gaps, supplying up to 41 percent of the troops deployed there by 2005. By 2011, more than 300,000 Guards had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as well.
Real Soldiers Fighting Real Wars
Members of the National Guard sign on to train one weekend a month and two weeks a year in return for some substantial rewards, including (at the moment) a possible $20,000 signing bonus. But what many of them don’t realize is how likely it is that, somewhere along the line, they’ll be deployed for a lot more than two weeks.
The National Guard isn’t the only force whose members sign up for 12 weekends and two weeks a year. The regular armed forces also maintain reserves, soldiers who want to combine military…