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Iowa Guard facing new jobs, education challenges

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

As the challenges of the past 10 years – including its largest deployment since World War II — new challenges are emerging for the Iowa National Guard on the home front.

With the exception of 90 members of the Guard and Air Guard, for the first time since 2001 the Iowa Guard has no units currently deployed overseas, Major General Timothy Orr, the commander of the Iowa National Guard told the Legislature Wednesdya.

More than 7,000 Iowa Guard soldiers and airmen have served in support of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan valiantly and without faltering, Orr said.

“They carried out their duties day-in and day-out, many on multiple deployments, to ensure mission success,” Orr said in his annual Condition of the Guard address.

Their service came with a price – nearly two dozen Guardsmen died and hundreds suffered wounds and injuries, Orr reminded the lawmakers.

Now that the citizen-soldiers have returned, they face an unemployment rate of 10 percent and those returning to college have lost as much as $1,300 a semester in tuition assistance, Orr said.

A record number of applicants for education assistance combined with flat state funding and rising tuition caused the Guard to reduce the award amounts to ensure all qualified applicants get some financial support, according to a Guard spokesman.

Lawmakers are taking swift action Wednesday to remedy the latter problem. The Senate plans to take Senate File 2007 to make a $1.3 million supplemental appropriation to cover those tuitions costs. It will increase the tuition assistance from $3,186,233 to $4,486,233 to pick up the tuition costs for Guard members enrolled in college this semester.

Orr said that each year approximately 1,100 to 1,200 Guard members attend Iowa universities and colleges through the tuition assistance program.

The program is vital to recruitment and retention of members in the Guard and in Iowa, Orr said.

“Without it we couldn’t have mustered the necessary personnel to meet our overseas and in-state mobilization requirem3ents over the last 15 years,” he said.

It also keeps those men and women in Iowa, he added, “and through their service in the Iowa National Guard helps deepen their Iowa roots.”

Overcoming the unemployment challenge may not be as easy.

Most Guard members return from deployment to pickup where they left off, Orr said.

“They return to work, go back to the farm, enroll in school or pursue new opportunities,” he said. “However, some find the transition difficult.”

The Guard is working with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve as well as Iowa Workforce Development to help Guard members and their spouses find employment.

Orr also spoke of the Guard’s other missions, to Kosovo, for example, as well as their involvement in flood relief in western Iowa that “demonstrate the performance and promise of your hometown military.

“Regardless of the challenge, we will remain ‘Always Ready and Always There’” for Iowans and the country, Orr said.

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