Missouri National Guard aids communities, defends nation

  • Published
  • By commentary by Ike Skelton
  • Congressman
Last month, I asked General Stanley McChrystal, American forces in Afghanistan commander, about the quality of National Guard troops serving overseas during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

His answer was simple: "They are extraordinary.... they bring unique skills... and maturity that active components don't have."

Whether supporting police training in Iraq, developing local agribusinesses in Afghanistan or clearing debris after natural disasters right here in Missouri, the National Guard remains a critical component of our national defense and a vital contributor to the safety of communities throughout the Fourth Congressional District of Missouri.

In many ways, the National Guard epitomizes that quintessential American hero, the Citizen-Soldier. Living and working among our local communities, the men and women of the National Guard must respond at a moment's notice to all manner of calls. And, these citizen soldiers are especially prominent in the Fourth District, where 13 Missouri National Guard Armories, as well as the Missouri Guard's headquarters are located.

Domestically, the National Guard strengthens local communities by applying their special skills and equipment to emergency situations around the nation. These domestic operations are a unique and invaluable part of the Guard's mission, for they allow these troops to hone their skills while helping people in need.

For example, the Missouri National Guard has committed over 6,000 personnel to disaster relief operations since 2005. And, with so many training and operating centers right here in the Fourth District, these Guardsmen are often relieving and restoring our own communities.

Yet the domestic contributions of the National Guard only represent a part of the overall role Guardsmen play in the protection of our nation. In 2008, the Missouri National Guard deployed almost 1,000 personnel to Kosovo, the largest overseas deployment our state has supported since World War I. And, as of December, 2009, there are more than 900 'Show-Me' Guardsmen working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the Guard continues to develop sustainable agribusinesses and teach new farming practices to local farmers. Many members of the Missouri National Guard have years of experience, as well as advanced degrees in agriculture-related fields. Harnessing and projecting these talents in Afghanistan not only improves life for the Afghan people, it also undermines Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and their ideology. Likewise, Missouri National Guard troops are continuing to assist with various tasks in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Currently, there are more than 360 Missouri Guardsmen conducting detainee operations, training Iraqi police units and assisting with air operations in the country.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a birthday celebration honoring the rich and storied history of the U.S. National Guard. Turning 373 in December 2009, the Guard continues to operate at home and abroad in a panoply of roles.

Missouri National Guard troops are a national treasure, and we must remember to appreciate everything they do to support, protect and defend our nation.