Bring Guard and reserve soldiers home

My husband is a sergeant in the Minnesota Army National Guard. His 142nd Engineers Battalion put their lives on hold at a day’s notice on Jan. 28, leaving their homes, families, businesses, schools and employers for active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Without question or complaint, they worked tirelessly, doing a commendable job at every mission put before them, despite being targets of daily mortar fire, 130-degree temperatures and continually having their hopes raised and dashed by ever-changing homecoming dates.

We learned from the media about the Army’s extension of Guard and reserve troops’ deployment in Iraq, adding six months to the year they will have already served.

Regular Army units don’t serve this long, yet they receive benefits our soldiers only dream of. Guard engineers provide necessary skills the Army doesn’t specialize in, but Guard members are not meant to be active full time. They are trying to finish school, return to jobs held open in our sluggish economy and maintain businesses they are in danger of losing if absent much longer.

Our soldiers don’t receive the Army’s two weeks of leave during a yearlong deployment to handle such concerns or be with family during the holidays. On top of spending over a year separated, missing anniversaries, children’s birthdays and three semesters of school, they are denied emergency leave for life-altering events such as the birth of a child. Some of our soldiers won’t see the first year and a half of their children’s lives if they are held to this extension.

It is unacceptable that our soldiers be rewarded for the remarkable tasks they’ve accomplished by keeping them from their lives, and out of ours, a year longer than the standard Guard activation. Why aren’t incoming Guard and reserve troops affected by this extension?

Their families know well in advance the deployment and redeployment dates they can count on, while the 142nd has never had such luxuries. Why shouldn’t additional troops be utilized to offset the hardship? Why should our soldiers, there since before major combat ended, who provide for the relative safety and comfort of incoming troops, be the ones required to stay the longest? Our soldiers aren’t even allowed to rotate out when their contract ends or when they retire, as in the Army, so some are held entirely against their will. If troops there are crucial, shouldn’t we rotate in fresh ones who aren’t fatigued and war-weary?

This battalion has executed the missions it was sent to do. Under this extension, they will sit at their camp, doing jobs civilian contractors already present could do, to improve the comfort of a military base. This does not benefit the Iraqi people’s quality of life. Is this the essential service requiring them to stay? Is this what an additional $87 billion should be funding?

If the 142nd is treated so poorly and shown so little appreciation for the work they’ve done and the sacrifices we have all made, I fear this will cause a substantial reduction in re-enlistment of Guard and reserve troops that sustain us all during our times of need. Don’t allow this to happen.

The 142nd has supported our country, and now it is their due right to return home. The families left to wait and worry are also under tremendous strain, trying to maintain a household independently, while staying strong and supportive for our soldiers. We are proud of these soldiers and now we want nothing more than for them to return to their lives.

Bring these soldiers home. They’ve earned it.

Jessica Swedin is a 2001 University alumna and a University employee. She welcomes comments at [email protected]