It has taken the New York Times 70 years to discover the New York Guard, the state’s official all-volunteer back up for the National Guard. True to form, the New York Times didn’t find much to like about citizens volunteering to help the Army in time of war. They wrote a sneering piece — not just a “smear” piece, but a “sneer” piece.
As an enlisted man in the New York Guard, I’d like to respond to the Times. On my Sirius Satellite Radio Show (Speak Now…with Dave & Susan Konig, The Catholic Channel, Sirius 159) we’ve had the great country singer Larry Gatlin as a guest. Larry’s advice about bad press? “Don’t get into a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” It’s good advice — but, as he is known for not always following his own good advice, I’m sure Larry will understand if I don’t follow it here.
First, a little background: The New York Guard is a state defense-force, hundreds of volunteers, some with prior military service, some without, all of whom leave their homes one weekend per month and one to two weeks per year to train at area Army bases to reinforce the state’s National Guard forces at home. When the National Guard is sent overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s the New York Guard who are trained to step in and lighten the load at home: supply and logistics, commo, decontamination, search and rescue — all within the state. There are 22 different states that have similar volunteer defense forces, but New York’s is — of course — the best.
Because New York Guard troops are not trained for combat missions overseas, you can be well past the age of Army enlistment and still serve your state and country. There are soldiers in the New York Guard in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. I’ve served in the New York Guard since 9/11. I’ve known guys in their 20s who were kept out of the Army and Marines for physical reasons: heart murmurs, asthma. They serve in the New York Guard, trained and Army certified as WMD decontamination specialists. I know guys in their 60s who were in the service as young men, and have put the uniform back on to pass their experience on to younger troops. One old sergeant who served in the Air Force forty years ago trained me to operate the state’s MERN (Military Emergency Radio Network). The MERN mission used to be a National Guard mission, but the state appointed volunteer New York Guard soldiers to take it over to relieve the state’s over-stretched National Guard.
In the New York Guard I’ve met, trained with, and served with some of the most dedicated and honorable men and women I’ve ever known. I’ve served on New York Guard teams that have: helped prepare Army Reserve units for overseas deployments, processed hundreds of National Guard troops deploying for overseas duty (checking their supplies, providing legal and medical services for them, even printing out their dog-tags), operated the state’s emergency radio network, assisted National Guard troops training local kids from bad neighborhoods in leadership and counter-drug strategies, provided crowd and traffic control for countless community events…and I’ve served on state active duty, activated by the governor, serving alongside National Guardsmen on the state’s WMD Decontamination team. For two weeks in 2004, during the Republican National Convention, the state was on high alert. I was flying over Madison Square Garden with one hundred other trained New York Guard and National Guard soldiers in Chinooks and Blackhawks — prepared to deploy, set up, and operate a decon line. If a dirty bomb had gone off at the Garden that week, I and my fellow New York Guard and National Guard soldiers would have been sent in in full protective gear and gas masks to decon the victims of the attack.
The men and women I’ve served with the past five years have all performed similar missions. It’s all volunteer. The only time I’ve ever been paid for my New York Guard service was the two week activation in 2004 (it wasn’t much, but it was nice to get paid). All the other missions and all the other training we’ve done for free — on the cuff. We do it because we are proud to have the opportunity to help the National Guard, to provide a service to our state and country in time of war. We’re not combat troops — we’re “in the rear with the gear” — but we train hard, we show up, and we do a damn good job.
If you think about it, it’s really a terrific story. Unfortunately, the Times didn’t think about it. In Monday’s paper they profiled the New York Guard as a bunch of old, Republican politicos in uniform saluting each other at ceremonial events. They actually reached back to the 1980s — the 1980s! — to find stories of politicos who had been given honorary officer ranks. There was some truth to this image before 9/11. After 9/11 the New York Guard saw a huge influx of young men and women (okay, relatively young in my case — I was 39 when I enlisted) and a huge change in it’s role in the state’s military structure. 9/11 was over five years ago — everything has changed. But why let the truth interfere with a good story that mocks the military?
There was a begrudging reference to some of the real-world missions the New York Guard has been assigned, including a search and rescue mission for a missing camper in the Adirondacks. I was on that mission. It was pretty tough work for some pretty tough middle-aged volunteers. We might have had prevacid in our packs for our acid reflux and extra Ibuprofin for our knees, but we showed up and we did the job we were called in to do. It’s a job that would under normal conditions have gone to National Guard troops, but we are at war and these are not normal times.
Volunteer to serve in your state’s state defense-force. They need doctors, lawyers, chaplains — and guys like me who can be trained to operate a radio, put on a gas mask, unload a truck, or search for a lost camper. If you’re in my area, and you want to join the best unit in the New York Guard, go to here. Tell them Sergeant Konig sent you. It’s great service, you’ll help your state’s National Guard, you’ll serve voluntarily with great people.
Best of all: you’ll really irritate the New York Times.
Just Can’t Get Enough? Dave Konig wrote before about being in the New York Guard. He also found the authentic Bush National Guard Memo. Susan Konig writes for NRO — about Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and God, for example.