When I was called to active duty in 2003, we had exactly 5 days notice. But, our leadership had dropped heavy hints two months prior. And, that activation was classified. It was “super secret.” Still, we had those precious two months to change our lives.
Many soldiers in Operation Lone Star just had two days notice. In Sept, 2021, Gov. Abbott expanded what had been a volunteer mission. He called for an additional 1500 troops in September. In October, he called for another 2500 Guardsmen. On Sept. 22, 2021, Tucker Carlson demanded the governor come on his show and explain why Gov. Abbott had not called out the Texas Guard. The Governor responded by calling up the equivalent of one Brigade. A brigade generally includes about 5,000 soldiers. Gov. Abbott went all in to protect our border. Later, Gov. Abbott said they would have 10,000 Guardsmen on the border. That number comes near the size of an entire Division.
Yes, there is a problem on the border. Does it really need 10,000 Guardsmen?
“Sat on His Ass”
What do those soldiers do? Many report they have simply sat around doing nothing. One unidentified soldier had his own business when he was called up. During the two wars in the 2000’s, the Guard and Reserve typically received 1-2 year’s notice for an activation. This young soldier with his own business received three day’s notice. Three days to drop his life and start a new one. He said that when he arrived at the border, he sat on his “ass” for days doing nothing. Then, he was sent home after three weeks. In other words, he was deactivated. But, as the Army Times explains, “. . .it may be too late to save his business. He says he still hasn’t found a new project and had to sell his company’s van to pay his mortgage, car payments and business loans.”
One member of the elite Air Force cyber operations unit said they are “sitting at a watch point for hours on end with their thumbs up their ass doing nothing,” a member of the cyber unit said.
Impacts Families Forever
Gov. Abbott gains some political cover with this activation. But, it impacts these families forever. Unlike every state activation since probably World War II, this activation was mandatory. The Texas Adjutant General treats this activation like a war zone activation. If a soldier does not appear when called, they are subject to arrest. Two soldiers committed suicide almost certainly due to the family hardships caused by this mandatory activation.
Lack Essential Equipment
Even today, many Guardsmen on the border lack body armor and helmets. Some lack ammunition. The Governor apparently wants to downplay the dangerous aspects of the mission. Narco-terrorists fire a few rounds at the Guardsmen every so often. See Army Times news report here.
Many Guardsmen still lack cold weather gear. That means they lack cold weather boots, parkas and underwear. When I went to Iraq in 2005, cold weather gear was a large part of my two duffel bags. Unlike the Federal call-ups during the 2000’s, the Texas Guard folks were not activated through a U.S. Army post. They have not had and still do not have access to the post facilities that issue everything from cold weather gear to IBA’s (Individual Body Armor). The Texas Guard is just not set up to maintain large stocks of personal gear.
Lack of Leadership at the Top
The Texas Adjutant General, MG Tracy Norris, ought to have warned the Governor about this. It is her job to tell him that his expectations are not realistic and may cause unnecessary harm to soldiers. When we take that oath, we assume there will be privation. But, hardship to work a psuedo-mission is incredibly deceptive. Worse, it will cause the retention rates for the Texas Guard to plummet. The Texas Guard may never recover from this blow to recruiting and retention. In the October – December, 2021 time frame, the retention rate dropped to 65%. Compare that to a normal 90-95% retention rate for the Army National Guard. But, as the complete lack of leadership has become apparent, even that low retention rate will surely drop much further.
In all my time in the Reserves and National Guard, we often said this like a mantra, “the civilian job comes first.” The Texas Guard has turned that motto on its head.
And, all this, so Gov. Abbot will win his next election.