Letter from the Editor

Monday, May 22, 2006

Who's going to guard the Guard?

Remember those old Life cereal ads? None of the big kids wanted to try that crappy-looking stuff. "Let's get Mikey!"

Being somewhat smaller and more gullible, Mikey was always expendable. If you've got a dirty job, there's always Mikey. Today, he's probably a landmine tester in Afghanistan. And I'll bet you anything, if he's still alive, he had enough of Life cereal years ago.

I'm afraid that the National Guard has become the Mikey of the current administration's mission.

Got a war going on? Send in Mikey. So what if he's a citizen soldier, trained in a short-term support capacity. Throw in a humvee, send him out to patrol in the roadside bomb zone for a year or so, and as soon as he gets home, perhaps call him back up for a another year away from his children and career.

Mikey's done a pretty exceptional job. Not only did he eat that cereal that perhaps tastes little better than the cardboard box it came in might, he went off to war and proved the equal of full-time military specialists in many arenas.

More amazingly, he didn't complain. And neither did his family.

They no doubt endured an amazing amount of frustration, and their loved ones shed a lot of tears, but they realized that when they put on the uniform, be it full or part-time, they were making a promise to do whatever would be asked of them on behalf of their country.

Here and there, a hurricane of other disaster cropped up, and of course, Mikey gets called in to wade through the rancid water and scour flooded houses for bodies. It is ugly work, but Mikey is trained to take on the work that no one else wants to taste. When disaster strikes and the situation is desperate, send in Mikey, and Mikey will make you proud.

And now, the president says the Guard should leave their communities to go patrol the southern border for illegals jumping the Mexican line.

To be honest, he has little choice. With public confidence ebbing and illegal immigration knocking all the other issues off the front page this season, the president has to act in some decisive way, just like he had to go to war in the face of 9-11.

He wants a guest worker visa program, but to get it, he has to give beefier border protection. In a sense, as much as he is protecting the border from illegals coming in, he must also guard it against his remaining conservative core support going out.

With the Army and Air Force a bit occupied at the moment, and with more storm clouds forming for the full-time military over places like Iran and North Korea, what do you do?

Let's get Mikey.

And if called upon, those Guard men and women will answer again, and do us proud again.

But is it right for us to play the callous big brother again and to make that call?

Our Guard serves a purpose. They are there to protect our community and state in the event of emergency, and to fortify the line in the event of a military crisis. They are not trained to be border cops, nor, perhaps, is their best use standing around perpetually in the superheated scrabble country of California, Arizona or Texas, shuttling Mexican expats home so they can try again the next day.

How many times can we call on Mikey to be our expendable resource for our political purposes, before Mikeys stops signing on? Pride and a desire to serve, along with a modest paycheck and some educational benefits, have in the past kept the Guard ranks steady.

But training a few weeks a year and a weekend a month, and being ready to mobilize for a specific job if needed, is a far cry from being taken away from their home for a year at a time for a war without an end in sight, or filling a job walking a border beat.

Conservatives are right, the border is weak. Ultimately, the only solution to stem the flow will be for people to have some reasonable opportunity in their own nations. Until then, we will need better border protection, which should mean working with the border states to hire and train border agents to do the job.

Mikey might eat another assignment if you stick it in front of him, but we need to be careful not to take advantage of our Guard people just because they are willing to serve.

We are going to need them one day for the kind of true emergencies for which they are hired and trained, and if we treat them with respect and allow them to be what they are - CITIZEN soldiers - they will always be there in event of military, human or natural threat to their towns, states and country.

Let's get Mikey! for another year on patrol in Iraq, or for six months walking the Rio Grande, while his or her spouse worries, his or her kids grow up without them and his or her career goes into neutral. That'll convince tons of young people to Go Guard.

He'll do it! Again! Hey Mikey!

But let's think real hard about whether we are doing the right thing. For all the Guard has done for us in the past few years, they deserve that careful consideration.