Stop the pursuit of the National Guard attending NTC amid a pandemic.

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A friend posted this online which better explains the current status of the NTC Rotation. I’ve deleted my original petition and replaced it with the following as it is current:  https://stopthedisgust.wixsite.com/mysite/post/failed-soldiers-and-broken-lives

“Failed Soldiers and Broken Lives”

The Deterioration of the Minnesota Army National Guard Due to Overuse and the Dereliction of Duty to our Soldier’s Families and Employers

By: A Concerned Leader in the Minnesota Army National Guard

Since the development of the First Continental Army in 1775, the history of the National Guard has been a tale of two lives. Both of these lives have been lived by the soldiers serving and those soldier’s families. These soldiers are unique in that they have served with honor and a sense of duty to not only their country, but to their states and individual communities as well. They bring to bear so many unique skills from their civilian lives in addition to their military occupational specialties. For instance a civilian welder might be tank crewmember, but he can help out in his maintenance section as well; or a civilian diesel mechanic may be an Army truck driver, but she is able to pull some pretty great maintenance on her own truck. The Army is better served and exponentially more useful with these soldiers in the ranks. These soldiers’ families support both the military and civilian lives of these soldiers, but they also bear the brunt of the increasingly frequent training requirements and operational tempo demanded of them by the Active Duty Army. This is why our Minutemen, these National Guard soldiers, and their families deserve better than the mistreatment and discord they are currently experiencing. Somewhere along the last few years, our state and our nation have forgotten what it truly means to be both a citizen and a soldier.

The 1st/34th Brigade Combat Team is currently planning to bring over four thousand soldiers to Fort Irwin, California this summer. This is for a specific training rotation at the National Training Center, or NTC for short. NTC is 30 days and is the most demanding training that Army units can experience. It is designed to bring soldiers to the point of failure, and designed to ensure that unit’s do not “win” their fight against the opposing force, or OPFOR. It should be noted at this time that NTC is NOT required in order for our soldiers to meet any training gates or for them to have a creditable year towards retirement or college benefits- not at all. It could simply be changed to a traditional 14 day annual training allowing us to recover from State Active Duty and prepare for deployment next year (more on that below). The Governor or State Adjutant General could simply say “No” to the Army… they could simply say “no” and save our soldiers all this undue stress and forced malignancy. But I digress- Normally this would be something units look forward to- the challenge, the tactics, the training, and the camaraderie built through shared struggle and pain. However this isn’t a normal year, and the Minnesota National Guard soldiers have not had a normal year in a very long time.

Before even getting into what craziness and pain the year 2020 has brought us, we must look at the strain already placed on these soldiers and their families. In the past 5 years- soldiers have been gone to NTC in Fort Irwin, CA; XCTC “Exportable Combat Training Package” as the OPFOR in Fort Bliss, TX; XCTC as the unit being graded in Fort Hood, TX; along with “normal” annual trainings, and drill weekends (weekends in this case consisting of 4, 5, 6, 10 and even more days). In the past year alone, the soldiers of several unit Battalions or Squadrons have had 49 days of duty that were not annual training or weekends, but week days. That is 49 days of Monday through Friday when they were supposed to be at their civilian employers, taking their children to school, changing their baby’s diapers, having birthday parties, and numerous other events related to their role as a civilian in their status of “citizen/soldier”. Taking this further, these 49 days do not even include all the soldiers that are required to set up for a training event. With the Advance Party “ADVON” setting up housing, drawing vehicles, establishing food operations, and more while the Rear Detachment “TRAIL” stays after to close down the same types of things. The soldiers assigned to these tasks have in some cases been gone for almost 100 additional days of duty. The most extreme cases of this involved the XCTC as Fort Hood, TX last year; where some soldiers attended 54 days straight of annual training… a period that according to their recruiters should be 14 days. One item of note here regarding our Brigade “Leadership”- all the Brigade Staff that was at Fort Hood for Rail offload, Main Body, and Trail was afforded a 7 day pass to go home in the middle of the exercise… they failed to relay this to any element below the Brigade, so nobody else got to do this. To top it all off- all of this is without mentioning the additional cost to the taxpayers for these increased training days is $90 million above what NTC already costs to attend. Do we not need that money in our state for other things? Are there not schools lacking funding, families without housing, children going hungry? Imagine what we could do for social programs with $90 million?

Now we have our current year… 2020. It’s been horrific for so many people and so many families throughout the world. However for the MN Guard soldiers, it’s been even more taxing than the already straining events mentioned above. The COVID pandemic has been a constant source of fear and stress for these soldiers. To the leadership’s credit- we had our March and April drill weekends changed to distance learning in order to account for the social distancing required of us. This led to an unintended consequence however- the leaders in our state decided we needed to add five additional days of training to the already required 30 NTC days we already have. With the ADVON and TRAIL duties, some soldiers will end up with another 50 days away from home, another missed summer, and another 4th of July away from their loved ones. The Army is also grossly mishandling the COVID situation while at NTC- frankly after seeing how the Department of Defense and the former Secretary of the Navy handled CPT Crozier and his fight for the soldiers of the USS Roosevelt, did we expect any less? Anyway, the soldiers are set to live in 100 person tents with cots placed inches from each other. The Army is also requiring soldiers to have a COVID test before going to NTC, so they decided to add another 3 days to the front end of training. So now the minimum days gone is 38 for almost every soldier, and we don’t even know if they are going to have to be COVID tested and quarantined at the end of training. Realistically they should be, but of course there is no definite answer on it- and frankly it would only add more days to the training anyway since NTC has already said we have to come back to MN to test and quarantine- they won’t be able to support it. So far, Brigade has not been able to tell anyone if there will be showers or bathrooms to utilize during any part of NTC, they believe the PX will be closed, and Fort Irwin has said they have no ability to provide medical support to us.

Making matters worse and increasing the stress even more is that soldiers are being told they will have their cell phones confiscated upon arrival at NTC. In the middle of a pandemic, while being gone for 30-40 or more days, they won’t have any method of communicating with their families. Now if there is an emergency, there is a procedure in the Army known as the Red Cross Message. This message is usually relayed in instances where perhaps a soldier’s loved one has passed away or an emergency involving their family has taken place. The message comes down through the Army Chain of Command and is relayed to the soldier. Under normal circumstances the soldier is processed out of training or deployment as fast as possible and sent home to be with their loved ones. However with the COVID requirements, soldiers notified will have to be tested and quarantined before being released back to their families. If the quarantine period is 3 or 4, even 5 days long… a soldier could potentially miss seeing a loved one dying in a hospital, or not be home in time to deal with a catastrophic emergency to their businesses or property. How can this be an acceptable risk in the eyes of any leader? How can we possibly expect to ask our soldiers to do this training if there is even a chance of this happening? As a matter of reference- a normal Squadron or Battalion sized organization has around 10 Red Cross messages during the 30 day training period. It is horrifying to think about the things that a soldier could potentially risk not being there for if they are held for extra days.

There is no known plan for quarantine at NTC, should a soldier show symptoms of COVID. The only semblance of a quarantine plan that has been relayed so far is stuffing ill soldiers into an old aircraft hangar in the middle of the California desert without any Air Conditioning. Soldiers first right? We have had to make it up as we go and take care of our soldiers as best we can through every bit of training so far. On drill weekend and during the Minneapolis State Active Duty mission, we had to find our own rooms to isolate potentially ill soldiers and find our own methods of transport to get soldiers to the hospital for testing. This is dereliction of duty on the part of the NTC planners and Army leadership all the way to the top. This lack of guidance and reassurance is a major source of fear down to almost every soldier.

As almost everyone is aware- the MN Guard was recently activated for events related to George Floyd’s murder and the protesting that followed. Some units were already at Camp Ripley staging vehicles and planning for the NTC mission. This (the SAD mission) was a mission that our soldiers didn’t question once. We wanted to serve our state and our communities. We wanted to ensure that not only was property protected, but that we defended the first amendment right of freedom of speech. It was an absolute honor to do this, especially for the soldiers calling Minneapolis home. We were only there for a short while however, when we were called back to Camp Ripley to, you guessed it- continue our staging, packing, and planning for NTC. What the state and our leadership failed to realize however, is that when we activated and moved out for Minneapolis, we had to undo every bit of packing and movement related tasks that we had done over the last three months. In a mere 6-8 hours we had undone everything and were on our way to serve our state. Now that the units on State Active Duty are moved or are moving back to their home stations and Camp Ripley, the leadership at Brigade level is telling us we still have to go to NTC. With everything else going on, we still have NTC. Why this is such a big deal is because we were scheduled to have the containers packed, vehicles ready, and trains loaded by the middle of June. The answer to this problem from State and Brigade was to keep us on State Active Duty for 4 more additional days after leaving Minneapolis, and then telling soldiers they will need to be on State Active Duty until leaving for NTC. So in a nutshell, some soldiers showed up for a drill “weekend” two weeks ago and will be on duty until August. When the individual unit Commanders told their higher leaders they could not possibly get enough volunteers to do this, the leadership said to order their soldiers into service…. They said we put on the uniform for a reason and we should have a sense of duty to it.

A sense of duty… Our soldiers have done more than their fair share of duty these last few years, and way more than their fair share in just these last few months. What a disgusting thing to have to hear- “do your duty”. Lest we forget, these MN National Guard members are our CITIZEN SOLDIERS. They have duty to not only the Army, but to so many other things- families, spouses, children, jobs, coaching duties, volunteer programs, and countless other things. Are we truly going to let it stand that the status quo for soldiers is that their duty is only to the Army? Nothing else matters? I look out across the formations and see pain and fatigue on the faces of my fellow soldiers. I see fear and stress. I see soldiers completely burned out, soldiers that I have known to be stalwarts of strength and endurance for over 10 years and multiple combat deployments. I have never seen this on some of their faces. I have never seen this complete bone-weary fatigue and anxiety. Recently, meetings were held almost in secret, down to the squad and section leadership levels between soldiers and peers in the organization- this meeting was to digest all of the changes and extra days and duty mentioned previously. They were discussing how best to staff these efforts, in some of the meeting this author was in, I looked at their faces and saw that the complete drain this whole thing is doing to them. Every single one of them looked as though they had been through something unimaginably horrible. It struck me hard, it disgusted me, and it shamed me to my core. Shamed me because I have not done more to save them from these events and the stress associated with it.

In all reality, the soldiers of our state and in particular- the 34th BCT have done their duty. They have done it to the point of retention being at an all-time low- soldiers are getting out after only a few years or on their first contract simply because they cannot maintain a family and civilian life while still serving in the Army. It isn’t only our younger soldiers however, it is leaders as well- our trainers and experienced individuals are being forced to choose between civilian life and the National Guard. This is never what was intended under the citizen/soldier concept. These soldiers have done their duty to the point where civilian employers are finding that while they cannot fire or let these soldiers go simply because of being a soldier- they can use any other number of reasons to fire them, whether justified or not. Looking at it objectively, how can you blame the employer? If their employee is gone for the previously mentioned 49 days of duty (that number is only the week days remember), they are almost always better served and garner higher profits by hiring someone not in the Guard. They have done their duty to the point of extremely high rates of divorce and family problems. Soldiers miss countless anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, holidays, and family events. They are gone when things break at home, they are gone when emergencies occur- how can a spouse or child be expected to understand that their soldier is being taken away for all these trainings and extra days that don’t even actually matter. They have done their duty in such a manner as to have sacrificed their own mental health. Stress and depression among our state’s service members is at an all-time high. Where is our leadership, and where is their genuine care?

Finally, the last major issue with this whole NTC plan and the extra training days it entails lies in the fact that our Brigade is deploying in January of 2021. Almost all of the soldiers that were on all of the aforementioned extra duty, State Active Duty, and now scheduled for NTC will be on that deployment. The only part of the BDE that isn’t set to deploy is the 94th Cavalry Squadron. However their soldiers are filling the already depleted ranks of the other Battalions set to go forward. So in speaking as a whole- all the soldiers experiencing the current extreme paced environment will be home for only a short while before having to turn right around and head out the door for deployment soon after. This is going to destroy the lives of so many soldiers and they have almost all voiced their concerns over it. They are not objecting to deployment, as we all understand our role as soldiers- but to the systematic over reaching use beforehand. It is simply too much for National Guard soldiers to be gone this much. It is not a sustainable model for keeping good soldiers in the Guard nor is it a good model for keeping their families together and successful employment when they return home. In all reality, these soldiers and their units should be given a standard 14 day annual training to prepare themselves and their equipment for this very important mission next year.

I write this in hopes that something changes for my fellow soldiers. I look forward to seeing them every month and want nothing but the best for them. There are so many of my fellow soldiers that I genuinely love as family. I have experienced pain and sorrow with them along with the happiest events of their lives. I cannot stand idly by while they are beaten down to the point of fearing their only choice is to simply quit. It tears me up inside and I will do whatever it takes to relieve them of these extreme stresses due to leadership failure. Frankly, if not for my love for my fellow soldiers and the fear that nobody else will write this, I would already have quit, resigned, or retired. Perhaps after this, many of us will be forced to be.

In closing- I ask Governor Walz and the State leadership to say no to this NTC rotation. Say no to this forced deterioration of our soldier’s lives. Say no to this destruction of our families and the civilian careers of our soldiers. Say no to what will inevitably be the degradation of the readiness of our National Guard for the next time we are needed on State Active Duty. Please, step up and say “no”, tell whomever you must that you will not allow this to happen to our soldiers any longer.

 

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Please look at the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division Facebook page with 70+ comments from Soldiers and Families on a letter from the commander.  There are numerous comments from concerned family members. https://www.facebook.com/MinnesotaRedBulls/

KSTP started covering the story: https://kstp.com/news/minnesota-red-bulls-prepare-to-leave-for-training-ahead-of-deployment-amid-covid-19-concerns/5736308/?cat=1

Please stop the madness. I don’t know who else to turn to. My husband does not know I’m writing this as I fear reprisals wait for for him.