Change in Guard policy reminiscent of campaign promise Obama made in Mitchell

Barack Obama speaks June 1, 2008, in front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Republic file photo)I know it’s popular these days to criticize President Barack Obama for his early failures, but a story in today’s Daily Republic has me thinking that he might be delivering on a campaign promise he made in Mitchell.

On June 1, 2008, I was granted all of seven minutes on the phone with Obama prior to his speech in front of the Corn Palace. One of the things I asked him was whether National Guard soldiers — who are numerous in South Dakota — would continue to serve long and multiple stints in warzones under his administration.

He said he would try to lessen the burden on the Guard. Here’s an excerpt from the story I wrote for the June 2, 2008, edition:

Obama said Sunday that, if elected president, he would work to expand the nation’s Army and Marine forces to ease the burden on the National Guard.

“We won’t be able to do it immediately,” he said. “It will take time to build up our core structure, but that would be my intention.”

Now comes a story from the Associated Press that says the Guard is trimming its ranks even as the active-duty Army is building its ranks. Here’s an excerpt from that story:

Military officials portray the cutbacks as an effort to trim excess from a Guard force that was bloated from years of successful recruiting, especially during the recession.

But there are suspicions inside the Guard and out that the reductions are part of an effort to shift the burden of fighting overseas onto the active-duty Army and ease the public outcry over the way that Guard units — part-time soldiers normally called into action during hurricanes and other disasters at home — have been sent on long, repeated combat tours in Iraq.

In fact, while the Pentagon has cut the National Guard by about 9,000 soldiers to 358,200 over the past six months or so, the nearly 549,000-strong active-duty Army is under orders to recruit 70,000 new soldiers by the end of September and 22,000 more in the coming fiscal year as the fighting in Iraq winds down and the war in Afghanistan escalates.

I have more than "suspicions," to quote the AP story, that this is an effort to shift the combat burden from the Guard to the Army. I have the president on record saying that’s exactly what he wants to do.

The AP story doesn’t mention Obama, so I don’t know if he’s behind this. But one way or another, the pledge he made in Mitchell seems to be coming to fruition.

We could have a debate at this point about whether a reduction in National Guard positions is ultimately good for South Dakota, where the Guard provides a supplementary income and college tuition to many. I’ll leave that to you.

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