Army Guard Division Commander Looks to Past, Future
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT A.P. HILL, Va., April 23, 2004 Maj. Gen. Daniel Long Jr. sounds like a man with two sets of eyes when he talks about the Virginia Army National Guard outfit he has commanded since August 2002.
His eyes to the front are focused on training the 11,500 citizen-soldiers in the 29th Infantry Division for the kind of warfare the Army is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The eyes in the back of his head are looking back 60 years when that Guard division began fighting its way onto Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.
Being trained and equipped to fight the right kind of war against the enemy at hand is the common denominator. It is why Long is devoting a considerable amount of his time and energy to, as he describes it, getting back to the basics or "resetting the division."
"In light of what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world right now, I felt I needed to change the focus so this light infantry division is prepared to do a lot of things without knowing specifically what's going to be asked of it," Long recently explained here, where many of his soldiers were qualifying with their weapons.
"I think knowing the division's history helps us to understand why it's so important to train well," he added.
That is why Long is leading 100 soldiers, including 60 or so junior enlisted people, to Normandy this June to be a part of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The division's band will be there. So will an honor guard. So will a lot of young soldiers, who will walk the beach and climb the cliffs and talk to the aging veterans who survived that dreadful time.
"I want those soldiers to talk to the veterans and bring the stories back to the rest of the division," Long said. "I think it's important to know the sacrifice and the commitment those men made back then. I think it's important to see that they're just like you and me.
"The veterans are very proud of this division," he added. "They were great patriots then, and we have great patriots now."
That's why Long insists it is time to get back to the basics so his soldiers are prepared. That means they will fight and defeat terrorists who wear no regulation uniforms and who kill with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices equally as well as their forebears helped fight and defeat the more easily defined German army in 1944 and 1945.
It's a tall order, because his division is spread over Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and North Carolina. Furthermore, 7,000 of the 29th's soldiers have been guarding gates and patrolling airports in this country and guarding detainees at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since the global war against terrorism began.
"Those things are important, but they really degrade your perishable infantry skills," he observed. Long is a lean, soft-spoken man, who balances his obligations as a one-man construction firm in Fredericksburg, Va., with the full-time demands Army Guard division commander.
He has proven himself as a soldier and commander by going through the Army's Ranger and air assault schools, by earning the Expert Infantryman Badge, and while serving as deputy commander of the Multinational Division North stabilization force in Bosnia in 2001-02.
Therefore, Long has a good idea of what today's light infantry soldiers should be prepared to do. He is determined to reset the division at the grassroots level.
He envisions "multifunctional squads or teams" with leaders who can command and control them "for a pretty good period of time."
Each squad, he said, should include a designated marksman and spotter, who can hit targets 500 meters away and report on what the enemy is doing. Each squad should include an engineer, who can breach obstacles with high explosives, and a couple of medics, who can keep wounded soldiers alive while waiting to be transported to a hospital.
He wants his soldiers to know how to patrol and convoy through cities, how to deal with civilians and imbedded members of the news media, how to fly in helicopters and how to fight at night.
"This division is supposed to own the night. The war doesn't knock off at 5 o'clock in the afternoon," Long said. "So we have to train during the night. This division counts an awful lot on moving around the battlefield using aviation assets," he added. "The soldiers have to know how to carry their weapons and rucksacks on helicopters, how to dismount and what it's like to fly in turbulent conditions. And the soldiers have to know how to work their way up a street and how to pull someone out of a building."
Nearly 600 of his soldiers, in the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, are now training to do those things at Fort Bragg, N.C., before they deploy to Afghanistan this summer.
Long wants all of his soldiers to be trained in those skills in case they too are sent into harm's way. He wants his soldiers to have the chance, like him, to go through Ranger and air assault schools and to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge so they will become better combat leaders and more motivated trainers.
"War is bad business," Long said. "You may only need your weapon for a few seconds, but isn't it great to know you can do it right?
"If we're going to send our sons and daughters and our grandchildren to do this, I want to make sure we've done everything we can for them to be successful," he added. "Failure can be very expensive."
Related Web Sites:
Virginia Army National Guard
29th Infantry Division