Early last month, a milestone was reached that few Floridians noted: the 100th mobilization of a unit of the Florida National Guard for service in the Global War on Terror since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Some 50 soldiers of the Second Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, joined more than 17,000 of their colleagues in arms for service in the longest-running military conflict in America’s history.
The Florida National Guard has some 12,000 members (10,000 in the Army National Guard, 2,000 in the Air National Guard), so how can more than 17,000 have served? Multiple deployments.
For the 2/111th Aviation, it was their third deployment.
The Second Battalion, 116th Field Artillery, which has its headquarters and two firing batteries in Polk County, has been mobilized twice.
And unlike in yesteryear, when Guardsmen (and Reservists) were mobilized for stateside missions while full-time units were sent to the battlefield, units mobilized in the GWOT stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their active duty counterparts serving in foreign lands.
That is a result of a change in doctrine on the role of the reserve forces. Historically, the Guard and Reserve have been a “strategic reserve” or “contingency force,” to be mobilized when the vast majority of active forces were committed to the battlefield.
Today’s concept is an “operational reserve” of units which are needed as part of the total military community to carry out any major mission.
This serves several purposes, of which two perhaps are most important: It reduces the cost to maintain the volume of military manpower to protect the interests of the most powerful nation on earth, since Guardsmen and Reservists are paid for one weekend drill per month and 15 days of annual training, and receive only a fraction of the benefits received by full-time soldiers. And it ensures that Guard and Reserve forces, for the most part, have comparable equipment and training to enable them to respond on minimum notice for battlefield duty.
This “operational reserve” status also means that today’s Guardsmen and Reservists serve with the knowledge that there is a high probability that over the course of a 20-plus year career, they can expect several mobilizations, each typically lasting one year.
What is Polk County’s role — the part played by your friends and neighbors — in this defense structure? The Florida National Guard has 61 armories in 39 counties.
Polk County has six units in five communities (Bartow, Lake Wales, Haines City, Lakeland, and Winter Haven). And many Polk Countians serve in Guard units in other counties.
Polk Countians have reason to be proud of their sons (and in increasing numbers, daughters) who serve in a dual capacity in the Florida National Guard: as members of the state militia subject to the call of the governor for hurricane recovery or other disaster relief, and as members of an “operational reserve” of soldiers serving on foreign battlefields.
They are major players in the Global War on Terror, and they have our utmost respect.