As the nation nears the conclusion of its longest, continuous period of war, the “mission-focused and warrior ready” Iowa National Guard faces three transitional challenges, Major General Timothy Orr told the Iowa Legislature Wednesday.
Orr, the Iowa National Guard adjutant general, used his fifth annual address to the Legislature to thank the citizen-lawmakers and all Iowans for their continued support for the approximately 9,400 citizen-soldiers who make up the Iowa National Guard and Air National Guard.
While Orr welcomes the transition from war – the most profound since the end of World War II, he told a joint assembly of the House and Senate -- it comes in an “increasingly complex and competitive security environment.”
For the first time in 12 years, he added, all Iowa National Guard units are home from Iraq and Afghanistan. About 100 soldiers and airmen are currently deployed and only two units have been notified of potential overseas deployment later this year.
Secondly, the transition comes at a time of “constrained resources,” he said, referring to the “national budgetary realities.”
Finally, Orr said, many active duty service members are transitioning to civilian life.
“Taken together, these are no small tasks,” Orr said. “How we chart our course and successfully adapt for the future will be important, not just for the Iowa National Guard, but for our entire nation.”
One of the most difficult realities for military service members during a time of fiscal uncertainty is the anticipated reduction in force, Orr said. Over the next five years, several hundred thousand service members will be released from active duty and returned to civilian status.
Although that will present difficulties for man, it provides Iowa with an historic opportunity, Orr said, and encouraged support for the Home Base Iowa initiative launched by Gov. Terry Branstad.
“Over the next five years, Home Base Iowa has tremendous potential to attract veterans and their families to Iowa,” he said. Those veterans will be looking to put down roots where they can raise and educate their families and own a home. “Iowa can be that place where many of these veterans and their families can live a quality life and reach their dreams.”
He encouraged continued support for state benefits, including the Military Home Ownership Assistance Program and the Iowa National Guard Educational Assistance Program, a “critical recruiting and retention tool.”
This year, about 1,200 National Guard members are getting 100 percent of their tuition paid for at Iowa colleges, universities and community colleges.
In addition to developing its relationship State Partnership Program with Kosovo and deploying nine medical evacuation aviators and crew members to Colorado during flooding there last year, Orr is looking to develop the Iowa National Guard’s readiness to respond to a tornado catastrophe.
“One of the greatest threats we live with in Iowa is tornadoes,” he said. “After watching Joplin, Missouri and the entire state of Missouri respond to their catastrophic tornado last year, I’ve directed the staff to develop plans and capabilities necessary to support the state of Iowa in the event of a similar, large-scale disaster in our state.”
Once a plan is developed, the next the next step will be to exercise that plan with local, state and federal partners.
Orr also reminded lawmakers about the responsibility to the National Guard members, especially the 44 who were wounded, injured or made ill by their deployments. Only 18 currently are receiving treatment at military treatment facilities across the country or in their communities.
“For me,” he said, “these deployments are not truly over until all of our warriors have returned back to their families.”