Army Guard Leader Visits Deployed Citizen Soldiers in Afghanistan
By Sgt. Tony J. Spain, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Mar. 9, 2007 The highest-ranking officer of the Army National Guard met with deployed Guardsmen here March 4.
Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn speaks to deployed Guardsmen at the Kandahar Airfield main dining facility Mar. 4. Vaughn is the highest-ranking officer of the Army National Guard. Photo by Sgt. Tony J. Spain, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn received a warm welcome from fellow Guardsmen at the Kandahar Airfield main dining facility. More than 40 Guardsmen deployed from across the U.S. crowded into the dining facility for the opportunity to meet, shake hands with and listen to Vaughn address some of the issues facing the National Guard.
“It is a privilege to be here with you, and I am proud of your service,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said the American people are also proud of the National Guard’s service. “The people in your communities are proud of you and are following what you are doing here very closely,” he said.
Pfc. Dominic Abramson, a two-year member of the Oregon Army National Guard on his first deployment to Afghanistan, said he was glad to hear about the support from the home front.
“I think it is good to hear people back home are still following what we are doing, because at times you don’t hear about it as much,” he said. “It just helps to reassure you that people are thinking and they know what is going on over here.”
Some key issues addressed by the three-star general included recruiting and retention in the National Guard. Vaughn noted that 18 months ago the Guard was wondering how they were going to meet the demands placed on them. The Guard was 20,000 troops understaffed and stretched thin due to deployments. Today the Guard is almost at its 350,000-soldier limit.
“Our recruiting and our retention are really good. Our younger soldiers now outnumber the older ones, and we have been able to retain experienced soldiers and keep that experience in the units,” Vaughn said.
Spc. Jesse Thompson, a three-year member of the Oregon Army National Guard, said he was pleased that retention has improved.
“I like to hear that they are making efforts in the right direction to keep retention within the units so that the experience stays along with the youth,” said Thompson, a forward observer who volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan.
Vaughn also attested to the uniqueness of National Guard soldiers, describing them as citizen soldiers with a heritage dating back to colonial times. The National Guard held its first formation in the Massachusetts Bay colonies on Dec. 13, 1636. This date is recognized as the birthday of the National Guard, and there have been citizen soldiers in formation ever since.
“We are the largest community-based defense force in the world, and we are the most powerful community-based defense force in the world,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn further elaborated on what a citizen soldier is. He said most National Guard soldiers hold jobs in their communities ranging from farmers to teachers to law enforcement officers. In the National Guard they are serving in a variety of different kinds of units.
“The citizen soldier shows everything that is right about America. It’s someone who is a patriot that will put their families and job on hold to serve their nation when called to duty,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn also spoke to the Guardsmen of the importance of the fight. “We must win this thing in Afghanistan; it is a big piece of the puzzle in the war. Iraq is important too, but this is the global war on terror,” Vaughn said.
As the director of the National Guard, Vaughn guides the formulation, development and implementation of all programs and policies affecting nearly 350,000 soldiers in all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia. Approximately 700 National Guard soldiers are serving here.
(Army Sgt. Tony J. Spain is assigned to the U.S. National Command Element in Afghanistan.)