Isle National Guard recruits beat average
HONOLULU » Thang Dang long felt close to the military, having grown up admiring an uncle who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Now the 17-year-old is a soldier himself, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard since June.
"I always wanted to join the service, I just wasn't sure which one," said the high school senior. "It's a step for me to become a man."
The Hawaii Guard attracted 388 newly enlisted soldiers during the year ending last September. That is better than the annual average of 300 to 350. Nationally, just more than 69,000 people joined the Army Guard last fiscal year, up 40 percent from 49,000 in 2004.
The question is, Will it last?
With the military rotating citizen-soldiers through Iraq and Afghanistan every few years, experts are concerned the enthusiasm for the Guard could wane, and fewer people will want to join and remain members.
"We shouldn't say, 'OK, the recruiting and retention numbers look OK, let's relax,'" said Christine Wormuth, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "It's a fairly brittle situation."
The military relies heavily on National Guard troops for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also has sent Guard members to the Horn of Africa and other less noticed posts in the campaign against terrorism.
State Rep. Mark Takai, a member of the House Military Affairs Committee, said recent deployments have been difficult for some soldiers and their families.
Hawaii Guard members "are on pins and needles every time there is a rumor or a newspaper or a media report suggesting that deployment is right around the corner," said Takai, who is also a captain and a preventive-medicine officer in the Army Guard.
Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the Hawaii Guard commander, said his soldiers are not likely to be among units mobilized soon, because most just returned from Iraq a little more than a year ago.
He added that the Pentagon's January decision to hire and train 92,000 additional active-duty Marines and soldiers should reduce the need for the military to call on the Guard so frequently.
He also likes how the Pentagon has decided to mobilize Guard members for no more than one year each deployment instead of 18 months.
Lee praised these moves as good steps toward preparing the military for a "long war" against terrorism he said will take 50 to 75 years.
Even so, Lee said, younger Hawaii Guard members are adopting a wait-and-see outlook before deciding to stay in for the rest of their careers.
"For them it's, 'I want to see what the next two, three or four years is like as opposed to the next 10,'" Lee said. "Because of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't think anyone can look that far out."