Guard units aim to strengthen bonds

By Pat Caldwell, Observer correspondent March 20, 2013 12:25 pm

Oregon’s top general said link between citizen-soldiers, communities more important now than ever before

by PAT CALDWELL / for The Observer

BAKER CITY — The future success of Eastern Oregon’s biggest citizen-soldier unit will hinge on fortifying the existing bond with area communities, a top Guard general said during a visit last week.

Brig. Gen. Eric Bush, the commander of the Oregon Guard’s 82nd Brigade, concluded a two-day tour of the Baker City and Ontario armories last week, and said the link between area citizen-soldiers and their communities is more important now than ever before.

The 82nd Brigade, with its headquarters in Clackamas, manages a number of Guard units across the state, including Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment. The 3rd Battalion consists of Guard units from Hood River, Woodburn, The Dalles, Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City and Ontario.

Bush, who works as the police chief for the city of Prineville in his full-time job, said the presence of a Guard unit in a rural community pays dividends. 

“I’ve seen over the years what a positive impact a Guard unit can have on a community,” he said.

Bush toured the Baker City armory and emphasized the array of resources the local Guard outfit can furnish to area officials.

“Baker City is blessed with what is known as a forward support company. So that means it has mechanics, cooks, truck drivers, fuelers. All of these things provide a capability that can be called out in a time of natural disaster,” Bush said.

Bush said as the American military establishment draws down from the global war on terror, the future relevance of Guard units across the country will be scrutinized.

“One of the interesting things today is the ongoing debate regarding the role of the Guard,” he said.

Bush said the image of the pre-Sept. 11, 2001, Guard was one that envisioned a force of local people slated to be called up for national service only during an extreme emergency. After the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of the Guard changed dramatically.

“The National Guard has become an operational force. That obviously implies readiness. So it is important we maintain that capability in this community,” he said.

The deliberation about the overall strength of the Guard and the active army is already in full-swing, he said. Mundane items such as a particular unit’s total number of citizen-soldiers — a challenge unheard of during the height of the war on terror — are now under the spotlight at the Pentagon.

“Decisions will be made about what units will stay and what units will go. One thing that will drive that will be the willingness of a particular community to support the local Guard unit,” he said.

Bush said it all comes down to the fact area Guard units must maintain and enhance the total number of citizen-soldiers on the drill floor every month.

“There is no mystery, no Ouija board quality to it. The No. 1 priority is to see how a particular unit is doing with its recruiting and retention,” he said.

Bush pointed out the 3rd Battalion began to field and train on the U.S. Army’s newest tank — the M1A2 SEP — last year. The battalion secured the new weapons system in a large part because of its stellar combat record during two tours of duty in Iraq. The 3rd Battalion is the only Guard outfit in the nation to receive the high-tech tank.

“But none of that matters if we don’t have soldiers to train on it,” he said.

Bush concedes his own experience in the Guard has been a positive one. Yet, he also maintained, his success wasn’t a unique case in the Oregon Guard. He said his service in the Guard helped his law enforcement career.

“I’ve had the opportunity to have fantastic law enforcement career and a phenomenal career in the National Guard. Without either of them, I would not have been hired in law enforcement jobs I’ve had,” he said.

Bush said a Guardsman offers prospective employers an asset they usually do not encounter.

“With that membership in the Guard comes a level of confidence the average job applicant does not have. People automatically understand that Guardsmen have been tested,” he said.

Bush said the Guard is also a premier leadership training organization, another key attribute he said that can be overlooked initially by firms who seek new employees.