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Reserve, Guard Units Hit Hard

Increasingly, those in harm's way in Iraq are part-time soldiers sent to provide security.

September 02, 2003|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — You might think Raymond Anthony had already done enough for his country. During four tours in Vietnam with the Marine Corps, Anthony was wounded six times.

He bears a long bayonet scar on his face. He was shot in the chest with an enemy AK-47, strafed by jets and blown out of a landing craft by North Vietnamese artillery.

But the 57-year-old state office worker, who joined a California National Guard unit here eight years ago so he could qualify for military retirement pay, was severely wounded again in July when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee during a night patrol outside Baghdad.

News reports last week noted that the number of U.S. casualties during the occupation of Iraq has surpassed those suffered during the initial 6-week invasion. Increasingly, those in harm's way are not from elite regular Army and Marine fighting units. Rather, like Anthony, some casualties come from mobilized National Guard and reserve forces sent to provide security.

On Aug. 10, Staff Sgt. David Perry, a Wasco State Prison guard from Bakersfield, became the first member of the California National Guard to die in Iraq. Perry, 36, was killed during a bomb attack in Baqubah, where he was working as a military policeman.

According to Maj. Gen. Paul D. Monroe Jr., more than a dozen Californians in the National Guard have been wounded since their presence began building in Iraq this summer.

Other than statistics produced by states, there are no overall numbers on reservists and guardsmen injured or killed, reflecting the military's position that the nation fields one unified fighting force.

So far, most members of the California National Guard have been from military police and transportation units. But in an interview this week, Monroe said he expects combat units to be deployed in coming months.

"We are getting these indications that, as active duty combat forces are being rotated out, our combat forces will be replacing them," Monroe said.

Unlike the regular military troops who preceded them, most of these reservists and members of the National Guard generally have civilian careers. For example, Anthony's commander in the Sacramento-based 270th Military Police Company is an elementary school vice principal. Others in his unit are police officers, firefighters, nurses and utility repair workers.

In addition to the constant danger posed by an often hostile Iraqi population, the overseas duty has inflicted hardships on many California families.

"This has totally ruined my husband's civilian career and disrupted our lives," said Kathy Martin, the wife of Army National Guard Sgt. Joseph Martin, who is serving in Iraq with a California-based military police company. "Since this has started, he has been passed over twice for promotion. We are mortgaged up to the hilt."

In civilian life, Joseph Martin, 44, is a 23-year veteran of the Hayward Police Department, where he is a patrol sergeant with a master's degree in criminology from the University of San Francisco. Kathy Martin, 32, is a mortgage banker.

The couple, recently wed, has a blended family of five children -- ages 6 to 15 -- still living at home. All five attend Catholic schools.

According to National Guard spokesman Dan Donohue, there are about 30,500 guardsmen and women serving in Iraq and Kuwait -- about 18% of the total 166,000 U.S. forces.

Records show this to be the largest National Guard battlefield presence since the Korean War. During the entire Vietnam conflict, for example, only 7,040 National Guard soldiers and fliers went to war.

With more than 1,500 men and women stationed in Iraq, the California National Guard is one of the largest state contingents of these "citizen soldiers" stationed in the Iraq-Kuwait theater. (Florida, with more than 2,000 soldiers and airmen posted there, is the largest.)

The significant presence in Iraq represents a fundamental change in the role of National Guard. In the past, typical assignments included fighting wildfires, providing flood relief, policing civil disturbances and supplementing security at Super Bowls and World Series games. In 1992, 11,398 members of the California National Guard were mobilized for the Los Angeles riots.

In the years preceding the campaign against terrorism, National Guard soldiers seldom faced more than the minimum 15 duty days and 48 drill days required by law.

"Before Sept. 11," Monroe said, "about 90% of our mobilizations were in support of the state of California and only about 10% were in support of national mobilizations. Since 9/11, that has just turned around completely. We used to be able to tell our recruits 15 days and 48 drills. Right now, I cannot even tell our soldiers how long they will be mobilized."

Some units, such as the 870th Military Police Company out of working-class Pittsburg, east of San Francisco, have already been called up twice.

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