Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Santa Fe's 717th Gets a Third Call

SANTA FE - Eighteen members of the New Mexico Army National Guard’s 717th Medical Company, headquartered in Santa Fe, are now preparing for active duty. In October, they will leave their jobs and families for additional training elsewhere in the United States and then more training in Germany. In February they will begin a year’s active duty in Kosovo.
This is the third activation of members from the unit since late 2001, when 25 soldiers were deployed to Kosovo. In 2003, another 28 went to Afghanistan. The 717th is a Black Hawk helicopter medevac group that is in great demand.
With the 720th Transportation Company, based in Las Vegas just back from Iraq and the New Mexico Air National Guard’s “Enchilada Air Force,” based in Albuquerque, recently also deployed to Iraq, our state is definitely carrying its load in supplying troops for our foreign commitments.
The latest group of medic soldiers is squeezing six months of emergency medical training into three weeks to prepare for their activation. They expect to be busy. While in Afghanistan, their unit flew 350 sorties and was credited with saving more than 500 lives.
Over half the Army’s supply of helicopter medevac soldiers are in the reserve or National Guard. Unfortunately the National Guard units often don’t get the latest equipment. Some of the seven Black Hawks assigned to New Mexico’s 717th are as much as 30 years old and are not as capable as the newer models.
The Pentagon doesn’t tend to treat National Guard units as well as those in the regular Army. Pentagon brass are all regular Army, Navy or Air Force and look down their noses at citizen soldiers although there is little reason to do so. New Mexico’s 200th Coast Artillery was the most decorated unit in World War II.
The White House has announced its opposition to a proposal to give National guard and Reserve members access to the Pentagon’s health-insurance system. The General Accounting Office estimates that one of every five Guard members has no health insurance.
But Guard and Reserve members aren’t the only ones who sometimes grumble about their treatment. The Bush administration wants to reduce funds for all military medical facilities and housing. It wants to roll back combat duty pay and it is extending enlistments and tours of duty in combat zones.
This treatment of our troops isn’t unprecedented in our history. When the Army extended enlistments during the Civil War, there were troops that marched off the battlefield, setting off frantic reenlistment drives throughout the war.
Dave Clary of Roswell, who currently is writing a book on the American Revolution, says Gen. Washington faced a tremendous crisis during the winter of 1780-81 when Pennsylvania, and then New Jersey, troops mutinied because of enlistment extensions, lack of supplies, cuts in pay, no uniforms or rations, and the manner in which their protests were received by superiors.
In January 1781, the enlisted men in the Pennsylvania Line rose up, ran their officers off, formed a committee of sergeants and began marching toward Philadelphia to deliver their gripes in person. A panicked Congress asked Lafayette, who was nearby, to meet with them. He, and a follow-up committee, eventually talked down the uprising, gave amnesty and convinced Congress to provide back pay, uniforms and supplies.
In his plea for an understanding of the situation, Lafayette supported many of the soldiers’ complaints and provided a long list of mutinies for lesser reasons in armies from Alexander the Great to that time. That proves, he said, that human patience has its limits.
Those limits haven’t been reached in the current situation, but history should serve as a warning that in a war far less popular than these two, which were fought on our soil, Americans and American soldiers will tolerate only so much.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for members of the Reserve and Guard and their employers to make militia service compatible with their lives and needs.


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