Rick Penberthy: A New Look At The National Guard And Reserves
by Howie Klein
|Rick Penberthy with Wes Clark|
Tomorrow is primary day in Florida and most pundits and Inside-the-Beltway creatures are focusing on the races which will determine who will replace Jeb Bush as governor and who each party will nominate to replace Katherine Harris in FL-13 (while watching with baited breath to see if Republican voters can halt their lemming-like march over the cliff in the U.S. Senate race. They can't; they've been conditioned to be lemmings and they're going over that cliff come hell or high water.) Looking towards November, Democratic prognosticators, using all the never dependable rear view mirror tools of yesterday's wars, are looking to knock off Clay Shaw in FL-22 with an over-consulted DCCC hack, prevent some retiring reactionary Repug in FL-09 from bequeathing the district to his son, and maybe picking up Harris' seat from FL-13. They're missing the most interesting race in the state– comfortably under the radar– Rick Penberthy's realistic shot at taking out kooky Republican rubber stamp, Ginny Brown-Waite in FL-05.
Florida's 5th CD has more retired military vets than any district in the country, a good fit for Rick, a veteran of both the Navy and the Army, and a much-admired school teacher. He's been endorsed by every newspaper covering the primary and local Democrats feel he can beat Brown-Waite in November. His two greatest strengths– unimpeachable integrity and real understanding of National Security– are Brown-Waite's two greatest weaknesses. Her only brush with anything remotely to do with national security was when she shrilly demanded that the U.S. dig up the bodies of all American servicemen from World Wars I & II and return them to America to teach the French a lesson for not invading Iraq. Even Republicans in Congress are embarrassed by her crazy, childish antics.
After serving in the Army in Korea, right out of high school, Rick enlisted in the Naval Reserves. If there was any candidate I was going to talk to about how Bush has botched up the National Guard and the Reserves, it was Rick.
President Bush's recall last week of the Marine Ready Reserve is just the latest miscue the administration had made in its ill-conceived war in Iraq. Though the initial recall is for only 2,500 troops, there is no cap on how many could be recalled up in the future. Although down from its peak of 40% in 2005, the National guard and Reserve still make up about 20% of the U.S. forces in Iraq. They have sustained 23% of the death toll since the war began in 2003.
William Lind writing in 2004 noted, “one of the likely effects of the disastrous war in Iraq will be the destruction of an old American institution, the National Guard. Desperate for troops as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is using the National Guard in a mission for which it was never intended; carrying on a 'war of choice' halfway around the world. Most Guardsmen enlisted expecting to help their neighbors in natural disasters or perhaps maintain order locally in the event of rioting. They never signed up for Vietnam II.”
For many members of the Guard and Reserve an extended Iraq deployment means economic ruin. Their civilian jobs and salaries are disrupted but their mortgage payments, car payments, and credit card debt continue to pile up. This puts their families at home in a terrible financial situation where bankruptcy is often the only way out. A late 2003 study by the General Accounting Office found that 945 of Army National Guard soldiers had experienced pay problems since being deployed. The report also found that the increasing numbers of Guard and Reserve troops who have returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan are encountering new battles with their employers at home. Jobs were eliminated, benefits reduced, and promotions forgotten. Over 4,000 claims have been filed under these grounds since September 11.
This new reliance on the Guard and Reserve in Iraq not only raises concerns about the Guard's long-term ability to recruit and maintain troops. It also causes concerns for states that rely on the Guard in case of natural disasters.
Hurricane Katrina is an example of this major misstep. When the storm struck the Gulf coast, Louisiana and Mississippi had about 40% of their National Guard units on active duty in Iraq. In Western states the Guard is often relied upon for help in controlling wildfires and the equipment that they bring to Iraq is seldom replaced in a timely fashion to assist in first response to natural disasters.
Part of the strain on the Guard is the concern that the most seasoned soldiers are getting out. Repeated deployments to combat zones are a stark contrast to the one weekend a month duty that was the common function of the pre-Iraq war Guard unit.
In 2004 many state commanders voiced their opinions about the situation:
Ohio's commander Major General John Smith said, “We will soon be a hollow force without replenishment dollars to replace what is being lost.”
Michigan's commander Major General Thomas G. Cutler said, “Everybody has a certain level of concern about how long-term this will be.”
Texas commander Major General Wayne D. Marty said, “There will be a time when we reach a point of diminishing returns if this thing keeps on going with the operational tempo that we have now.”
One of the more hypocritical aspects of the reliance on the Guard and Reserve is that while the administration is relying on them as an essential part of their wartime strategy, their allies in Congress are busy cutting their benefits. In many 2005, on bill HR1815, Republicans voted with Tom Delay to oppose expanding TRICARE to thousands of National Guard and Reserves. The vote was against a Democratic motion to expand access to the military's TRICARE health insurance program to
thousands of Reservists and National Guard members. Despite the fact that more than 233,00 members of the National Guard and Reserve have been called up to active duty in Iraq, not all Guardsmen and Reservists have access to TRICARE. A report in 2003 by the General Accounting Office showed that 20% off all Reservists and 40% of Reservists age 19 through 35 have no health coverage. According to Defense Department data 18% of activated Reservists have no medical
coverage. As of 2003, only those called up for active duty were eligible for the program. The proposal would have expanded military health care to provide access to TRICARE to most members of the Guard and their families for a low fee. The motion failed 211 to 218.
Furthermore, in 2005 HR 2528, Republicans voted against an additional $30 million for veterans health care that would have added funding for combat-related trauma care to support wounded troops once they return to their homes, medical and prosthetic research, and 100 additional staff to help process claims and pensions benefits. It failed 214 to 213.
William Lind put it into prospective, saying, “Once the guard has been destroyed, who will provide the emergency services communities need when disaster strikes? One would think that in a so-called “war against terror” where the danger to the American homeland is readily acknowledged, someone in the nation's capital would care about he local first line of defense.”
Did you see those close voting tallies Rick cited above? If you think the vote was wrong, you have an opportunity to help elect a man who feels very strongly that they were wrong. If you live in FL-05, you can vote tomorrow in the primary. If you live anywhere you can listen to this song and then you can think about whether or not you want to do something to help Rick Penberthy replace a useless Bush rubber stamp in Congress. In fact, I want to make it easy for you. Anyone who contributes at least $20 to Rick's campaign on Taylor's Act Blue Pagein the next 24 hours will get a rare, cool CD sent to them, one that can't be purchased in any stores (or online) but that has music from Sarah McLachlan, Evanescence, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Fugees, Indigo Girls and several other artists with something to say worth listening to.