By Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, (11/4/10) -- The Persian Gulf War marked the first time in history that America fought a war without a single ground maneuver unit from the National Guard, and many of the troops regretted not getting a chance to show how well they could serve.
â€œWhen the air war ended, and it was time for the ground war â€¦ it happened so fast -- a 100-hour ground war -- and it was over,â€ said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. John B. Conaway, who was the chief of the National Guard Bureau at the time.
â€œ(It) was a disappointment that they didnâ€™t go â€¦ that they were strung out and not sent over early with their parent Army divisions.â€
While the 24th Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment mobilized, their two roundout brigades from the Georgia and Mississippi Guard were left at home.
The Army's handling of the roundout units was to become a source of great frustration for the Guard.
With 465,000 Soldiers, the Army Guard contained 46 percent of the combat, 32 percent of the combat support and 26 percent of the combat service support units in the total Army, according to the Annual Review of Chief, National Guard Bureau for 1990. In the end, about 65,000 Army Guard troops deployed in support of the operation.
The 142nd and 196th Field Artillery Brigades from the Arkansas and Tennessee Guard, respectively, were the only two Army Guard combat units to fight in the war.
Despite the Army's lack of interest in using Guard combat units, the need for reserve component support troops to bolster the defense effort in Saudi Arabia was abundantly clear from the beginning of Operation Desert Shield.
On Aug. 7, the day after Saudi Arabia agreed to host U.S. forces, U.S. Air Force F-15s flew to Saudi Arabia. U.S. Army forces followed quickly on their heels.
The 82nd Airborne Division began to arrive on Aug. 9 along with two Soldiers from South Carolina's 228th Signal Brigade, who acted as a mobile communications unit. They were the first Army Guard members to arrive in theatre, where they set up a single channel tactical satellite set for Third U.S. Army.
â€œThese young men and women with their civilian experience were invaluable to supporting the combat forces that were over there,â€ Conaway said.
Within days of the invasion, NGB officials set up a 24-hour emergency operations center to identify key Soldiers and units for early deployment.
â€œThe Army National Guard did a great job,â€ Conaway said. â€œWe were involved every day in mobilization decisions â€¦ which of our units would be going.â€
On Aug. 22, the president ordered the selected reserve to active duty. Army Guard combat units were held as a strategic reserve by the Army.
â€œWe got into a little bit of give and take with them,â€ Conaway said.
Media reports quoting "anonymous Army sources" inaccurately stated that these roundout units were not deployed, because they could not meet the criteria for deploying.
â€œWe were kind of like step children to them,â€ Conaway said adding that Army Guard units were never given â€œrealâ€ readiness inspections by the Army like the Air Force did for the Air Guard.
On Aug. 24, NGB sent alert order #1 to 69 Army Guard units warning them that they would soon be mobilized in support of Operation Desert Shield. Three days later, orders went out to 19 units totaling 482 Soldiers in 13 states.
The honor of being the first was determined by a coin toss that took place in the Alabama Guard emergency operations center after two separate mobilization orders arrived simultaneously at two in the morning.
The winner was the 1241st Adjutant General Company (Postal). It was the first Army Guard unit to be called to active federal service since the Cuban boatlift of 1980.
Army Maj. Robin Branch was a personnel clerk for the 183rd Personnel Services Company of the Virginia National Guard in 1991, when her 104-member unit was mobilized for duty. They were responsible for processing enemy prisoners of war.
â€œ(It) wasnâ€™t something that we necessarily trained for,â€ she said. â€œBut all along the way our senior NCOs were able to teach the other skills sets that we needed â€¦ We were able to incorporate other training into our real world mission at the same time.â€
Branch said her 12-hour night shift was spent taking photos, fingerprinting and â€œgetting as much information as we could about (the prisoners) and where they were from using the interpreters that were available to us.â€
During the three-month deployment, Branch said unit members grew close.
â€œAnd because there were so many of us that were young, we learned a lot in a short period of time â€¦ that was probably the foundation for the rest of our careers.â€
The Guard - both Army and Air - was eager to serve, Conaway told Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a late September meeting.
He urged Powell to call more Guard troops, while Congress pressured the Army leadership and the Secretary of Defense to explain why they had delayed in calling up Guard and reserve combat units, according to a book published by Conaway titled, "Call out the Guard!"
Conaway then visited Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Saudi Arabia and was encouraged to find out his Guardsmen were doing excellent work that was appreciated by the commander of Central Command.
â€œThey were effective,â€ said Conaway. â€œSome of the division commanders said they couldnâ€™t have done it without the Army Guard and Army Reserve units over there. They totally relied on the Guard and reserve.â€
Schwarzkopf, who had commanded the 24th Infantry Division and was familiar with the capabilities of Georgia's 48th Infantry Brigade, knew it was an issue he had little control over.
â€œHe did say the right thing to us,â€ Conaway said. â€œI think he would have liked to have them. I think it would have been great that they would have been involved.â€
Conaway said a deployment with their parent Army division would have been â€œequally as good or betterâ€ than going to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin.
â€œThe way we trained and planned to go to war changed after that,â€ he said.
Within a decade of the Gulf War and with peacekeeping missions abounding and the threat of further force cuts receding, the tension between the active Army and the Army Guard faded somewhat. The Guard has deployed in support of military operations in Somalia, Haiti, the Sinai, Bosnia and Kosovo.
(Editor's note: This story contains excerpts from "Mobilizing for the Storm, The Army National Guard in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm" by Army Lt. Col. Les Melnyk of the National Guard Bureau.)