Guard units await possible call up as Iraq issue renews

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   While United Nations' inspectors tour Iraq, the U.S. armed forces prepare for the possible call to military action.
   Along with the "regular" army, the nation's National Guard troops could also be activated for support services as several guard units were -- including the 776th Maintenance Company of Elizabethton -- during Operations Desert Shield and Storm in 1990.
   "Any call up is a major call up, if you are one being called," said Major Ken Jones, with the Office of Public Affairs for the Tennessee Department of Military in Nashville.
   Members of the 776th Maintenance Company were among 15 Tennessee Army and six Air National Guard units called up to support Desert Storm in 1990.
   Local guard members said they had heard no order to mobilize and referred questions to the Guard's state office in Nashville.
   Roughly 3,600 men and women in the National Guard served in Desert Shield and Storm military operations in Iraq.
   Jones said National Guard units receive a "pre-mobilization" notice from the military before actual activation to prepare guard members for duty.
   Unlike previous actions, he said military brass could activate certain units or even small numbers of personnel with expertise in needed areas such as mechanics or supply services.
   "They have a lot of options," said Jones. "They may call us by units, the entire state, or three or four people depending on the need."
   Smaller national guard units such as the military police were activated in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. No Tennessee guard units have been activated for deployment to Iraq, said Jones.
   The 730th Quartermaster Company based in Johnson City provides food and supply support -- including water purification -- for field troops, he added.
   The 176th Maintenance Battalion Headquarters from Johnson City and 130th Rear Area Operations Center from Smyrna were among the first Tennessee units called to active duty in Operation Desert Shield and Storm.
   "The president makes the call, and he will determine 'we need x amount of this group and that group,'" said Jones.
   Once the presidential decision is made, the U.S. secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force draw up plans and communicate their needs to state guard units to determine pre-mobilization and unit activation.
   "We check all the equipment and notify that we are ready and coming to go," said Jones. "At that point, they give us a mobilization point to go to and a time line on when to be there."
   A state national guard's Adjunct General disseminates orders issued by U.S. military and also activates units requested for service, Jones explained.
   "They used to call up entire units, but with the majority -- (e)specially on the Air Guard side -- they are calling in what they need," he said.
   The Tennessee National Guard is comprised of just under 15,000 Army and Air National Guard members.
   Guard battalions range from engineering and transportation units to military police and medical detachments. Quartermaster companies essentially serve as a supply and logistics chain to field troops providing supply personnel.
   "As a guardsman, we stand ready at all times," said Jones. "All our soldiers and airmen are professionals; they are ready to do whatever they are ordered to do."