The National Guard turns 375… and is still going strong

December 13, 2011

Guest blogger Emma Wojtowicz discusses a milestone for the United States National Guard.

Today the U.S. National Guard celebrates its 375th anniversary.

On December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court issued a declaration that all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to join the militia to defend against enemy attack and protect the settlements.

Image: The First Muster in 1637 took place after the December 13, 1636 Massachusetts General Court declaration established three regiments of “citizen soldiers” within the colony to defend against enemy attack and preserve villages established in the colony per English militia tradition. Source: “The First Muster” painting by Don Troiani.

Now, 375 years later, the National Guard still has the same mission and is an important part of the fabric that defends our country. The National Guard’s motto “Always Ready, Always There” is embodied in its founding when militias protected the colonies and today as the National Guard protects U.S. citizens at home and abroad.

In honor of this momentous occasion, the Government Printing Office has assembled a collection of National Guard publications, from history to present-day operations.

The National Guard and the War on Terror: Operation Iraqi Freedom is the third book in a series published by the National Guard Bureau about the National Guard’s role in major events from the first decade of the 21st century, including the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.

Operation Iraqi Freedom focuses on the early years of the Iraq War – the National Guard’s largest commitment of combat personnel since World War II.  Weaving together personal narratives, photographs, charts, and maps, the book tells the story of the Iraq War from the perspective of the National Guard’s citizen-soldiers and airmen and their role in the war from the lead up to war after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to 2006 before the troop surge.

Operation Iraqi Freedom stresses that the National Guard has had a hand in every aspect of the United States’ engagement in Iraq from strategy and combat to stabilizing, training, and rebuilding the country. The author is very thorough in his explanations of conflicts and does not shy away from portraying the realities of war. Image: Never Forget! painting by Larry Selman shown in the Operation Iraqi Freedom book.

The book’s perspective rotates through National Guard units from various states detailing their missions and conveying to readers the national effort and representation of troops who are serving overseas. Operation Iraqi Freedom concludes with an “In Memoriam” tribute to members of the National Guard who have lost their lives during the Iraq War and a brief chronology of the war during the time period of the book from January 2002 to December 2006. These two closing features put the war in perspective considering other branches of the United States military that are also engaged in the Iraq War.

For 375 years, the National Guard has played a vital role in protecting the United States, which is illustrated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This new role of supporting the other armed forces overseas in combat “warfight” missions is relatively new, but its other roles of homeland defense and security, emergency response here and abroad,and other domestic support missions are well-known and much appreciated by generations of Americans for the past 375 years.

Image: Varied missions of the National Guard. Source: National Guard Website Image Gallery

The National Guard’s almost four centuries of service is being recognized at the highest levels. It is important to note that on Monday, November 28, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the defense spending bill that– if passed in the final version by both houses–  would elevate the National Guard chief to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joining the leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines at the highest level of military and defense strategy.

Image:  DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. – A crew of Airmen with the 114th Fighter Wing of the South Dakota Air National Guard carefully place sandbags along a retaining wall where heavy equipment could not be used to reinforce the levee here on June 5, 2011. The Airmen are working alongside Army National Guard Soldiers to provide critical support to flood prevention operations as the Missouri River reached critical flood levels. Source: South Dakota National Guard; Photo by Sgt. Charlie Jacobson

How can you get The National Guard and the War on Terror: Operation Iraqi Freedom?


Solving the Iran Puzzle

December 21, 2010

When I picked up this morning’s paper (yes, I still read a printed newspaper), the first story I read concerned the opening of a franchised Iranian ice cream parlor in Baghdad’s Green Zone. As I read, it struck me that this small development epitomizes the complexities of Middle Eastern politics – specifically, the role of Iran as a regional power and its continuing friction with America. For example, the Iraqi owners of the Ice Pack franchise stated that they would have preferred owning a McDonald’s, but it was cheaper and less expensive transportation-wise to deal with the Iran-based company – and there was less chance of having their store blown up! Yet the article also pointed out that Iran is not popular among Iraqis, and the owners were not publicizing the origins of their store. Economic power, political pariah – how does Iran fit into the Middle Eastern puzzle?

You can find some interesting answers in The Iranian Puzzle Piece: Understanding Iran in the Global Context, a slim but substantive collection of articles from the Marine Corps University Press. The experts whose opinions appear in this little book generally agree that, despite the outlandish and outrageous pronouncements of some of its leaders, Iran’s rulers are not “mad mullahs” mindlessly fostering apocalyptic violence, but faction-ridden yet eminently hard-headed realists whose foreign policies are more influenced by nationalism and Iran’s role as a regional power than by religious fanaticism. One author points out, for example, that despite the 1988-1994 conflict between Shiite Azerbaijan (the only predominantly Shiite nation besides Iran and Iraq) and Christian Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabagh territory, Iran did not support Azerbaijan – seemingly more concerned about possible secessionist impulses within its own province of Azerbaijan than with any sectarian solidarity. Another article notes that Mesopotamia was for centuries a battleground between the Ottoman and Persian empires, leaving a legacy of mutual national distrust not moderated by a common religion (a readable book on these wars would be both interesting in itself and enlightening as to the roots of Iraqi-Iranian relations over time – I wish I had the linguistic knowledge to write one).

The Iranian Puzzle Piece has a lot of information packed into its 100-plus pages, including an Epilogue covering the disputed Iranian presidential election and subsequent repression of the political opposition. I came away with a greater understanding of the complex and ambiguous Iranian political scene, the motivations of its various factions, and insights into the problems stemming from Tehran’s nuclear adventure and implacable animosity towards Israel. I recommend this one highly. You can read it here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library.

One thing about that newspaper article – it said that Ice Pack carried 34 flavors but didn’t say what they were – quince, pomegranate, apricot, Persian melon? I’d love to know!


Prisoner Interrogation in Three Wars

June 3, 2010

Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq is an absolutely fascinating read. This book from the National Defense Intelligence College takes both an historical and policy-oriented view of prisoner of war interrogations in three wars. The World War II section examines the Army’s use of Japanese Americans – Nisei – as interrogators in the Pacific, along with incisive discussions of why Japanese soldiers seldom were taken prisoners, why a relatively high percentage of such POWs cooperated with their interrogators, and why they furnished such a significant amount of intelligence to their captors (the Japanese military hierarchy assumed that their men would not become prisoners and so did not indoctrinate them about the importance of not giving up information if they were.) This part of the book also analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Army and Navy Japanese language training  provided during the war.

The Vietnam section focuses on profiles of the most able interrogators in World War II (the wonderfully named R.W. G. “Tin Eye” Stephens for the British and Hans Scharff for the Germans) and a number of successful American officers during the Vietnam conflict. Throughout the book, the authors make the point that linguistic ability, a deep understanding of the captives’ culture and worldview, and a perception that torture or other violent methods were useless in soliciting information of value are the hallmarks of a successful interrogator of prisoners. This part of the book also describes these individuals’ occasional conflicts with the military bureaucracy, such as Sedgwick Tourison’s experience in reporting more information about the Tonkin Gulf incident than his superiors wanted to hear.

The final section, on Iraq, focuses on policy issues – specifically, whether Army doctrine should permit Special Operations personnel to interrogate prisoners. Again, real-world examples from personal experience provide a study that is both gripping and insightful.

Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq is a thoughtful and provocative analysis of what any army confronts in war – the need to gather intelligence from prisoners, the most effective way to do that, and the ineffectiveness of “harsh methods” in delivering useful information.

You can read the book here or get a copy from GPO here.  To find it in a library, search here.


“Now, when I was in Baghdad” – A Short Guide to Iraq

May 11, 2010

One of my first posts on this blog concerned a World War II booklet illustrated by Dr. Seuss. It was one of a cache of such booklets that had belonged to one of my uncles during his wartime service as a Navy pilot. Although not collector’s items, these little guides to China, India, Burma, West Africa, and even New Caledonia, fascinated me as a kid. As an adult, both before and after my discovery that the Dr. Seuss booklet was a collector’s item, I didn’t give them much thought.

Several years ago, though, they were brought to mind by a call from the person who was then in charge of GPO’s public relations office. Every so often we get calls about long out of print Government publications, and this was one of them. A reporter was asking about A Short Guide to Iraq and did I have any information about it? “Well, yes. Oddly enough, I own a copy.” I explained the background and said I’d rummage around at home and find it.

Within a few hours, I was in her office doing a telephone interview with a wire service reporter with a British accent. She seemed fascinated by how I had come to own a copy of the booklet she was seeking. As far as I know, the story never went anywhere, but I’m still amazed at how much excitement these old documents can stir up.

As for A Short Guide to Iraq, what seems to engage people is that American troops were sent to Iraq during the Second World War and that so much of the advice it provides seems relevant even today. A university press has reprinted a facsimile under the title “Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II” (the cover looks different but it’s basically the same book). It’s a quick read and very well done for its purpose, which was to give a quick overview of Iraq and its people for the average GI or sailor. It’s similar in intent, although less elaborate in execution, to the Afghanistan and Pakistan Smart Books I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. Click here to read this neat little booklet.


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