National Guard looks back on its role, toll of Iraq War
10 years ago today marked beginning of debated conflict
CAPITAL REGION The United States relied on members of the Army National Guard to do a significant piece of the fighting during the Iraq War, marking its 10th anniversary today.
In previous wars, as recently as Vietnam, the regular Army bolstered by draftees did the brunt of the fighting.
The so-called “civilian soldiers” of the Army National Guard were also well-represented in the death toll from the war that started March 19, 2003, and was declared over by President Obama on Dec. 15, 2011.
Many editorial writers have declared the war a tragic mistake and a failure for not providing real freedom to the still-chaotic Iraq.
At least seven Capital Region residents died in Iraq and many dozens more were wounded, many of them members of the New York Army National Guard.
Two of the first area residents to give their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom were Army Sgt. Thomas D. Robbins of Schenectady and Delmar in February 2004 and U.S. Army National Guard Pfc. Nathan P. Brown of Moreau in April 2004.
Brown and others in his local National Guard unit had joined the Guard as a way of earning some extra income by attending monthly musters and some summertime training camps. They ended up in a combat zone in Iraq.
John J. McKenna IV of Clifton Park, a state trooper and Marine Corps Reserve captain, was killed in combat in August 2006. The list goes on and includes Army Staff Sgt. Amy Seyboth Tirador, who died in Iraq in November 2009 of a non-combat gunshot wound to the back of her head. The Army determined the death to be a suicide but this has been disputed by her family and fellow soldiers.
A total of 23 soldiers of the New York National Guard died in Iraq.
The war claimed nearly 4,500 American lives and left approximately 30,000 wounded. An estimated 100,000 or more Iraqis were killed during the war.
“At one point, the high point, the National Guard made up 57 percent of the combat force in Iraq,” said Major Gen. Patrick Murphy, commander of the New York Army National Guard and the state’s adjutant general.
He said the New York Army National Guard was part of this 57 percent along with guard units from many other states.
“We were a totally integrated Army, we served side-by-side [with regular Army soldiers] and we relied on each other,” Murphy said about the Guard members serving in Iraq. “They really did everything asked of them and more.”
“They brought their own expertise from the civilian world,” he added, noting that guardsmen who were municipal employees in civilian life, for example, were able to create water systems and sewer systems in Iraq.
Police officers in civilian life provided law enforcement training and guidance in Iraq, Murphy said.
A total of 5,277 New York Army National Guard members served during the Iraq War, some 473 of them women. More than 3,500 airmen from the New York Air National Guard served in support of the war, with the greatest number, 673, present during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to Eric Durr, a spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
Just last week, a carefully planned assault on the Iraqi Justice Ministry in Baghdad with car bombs and gunmen disguised as military police claimed at least 24 lives.
An Associated Press story said the large and complex raid in the heart of downtown Baghdad showed how vulnerable this country remains to insurgent attacks.
The Rev. Jay Ekman of the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs was an early critic of the Iraq War. He said the Iraq War was doomed from the very beginning because it was “based on poor historical understandings, not to mention outright lies to the American public” such as the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“Most people want to live for something worthwhile. The same with dying,” Ekman said via email. “There can be no greater pain than losing a child, grandson, or daughter. To lose that child in a cause perpetrated by politicians too unpatriotic to tell the American people the tragic truth about the failure of our most recent wars, only compounds the sadness.”
He added: “Even President Obama, with his endorsement of the ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, became a willing victim of his predecessors’ ill-fated policies and lies.”